Thursday, March 28, 2019

Preservation: An Ounce of Prevention...

Left: Prefabricated document boxes; Right: Custom-fitted
enclosures for some of the scrapbooks in our collection
As Benjamin Franklin suggested, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

A lot of what we have discussed on our blog to date is related to the conservation treatments that we execute, which is only part of Preservation. We take a number of steps daily as part of our overall Preservation program to aid in preventing damage and to prolong the life of our collections.

The way items are stored is part of our overall Preservation program to ensure the longevity of our collections. Many of the items in UNC Greensboro's Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA) are quite stable as is and can be housed on appropriate shelving in our closed stacks. Some items, though, need additional protection and are in prefabricated enclosures, such as archival document boxes. Others require custom enclosures. Scrapbooks, for example, are notoriously challenging to house as they are odd sizes, often contain poor quality paper, and are overstuffed with a variety of types of ephemera and photographs.

​These enclosures, both the prefabricated document boxes and the custom-fitted enclosures, are providing protective micro-climates for the items they house. They provide physical protection, such as keeping items flat when needed or protecting items from abrasion, but they also aid in keeping a steady temperature and humidity level.

A tennis racket is just one example of a unique
item in our collection that is challenging to house
SCUA is comprised of several collections, including Rare Books, Manuscripts, Cello Music (an internationally renowned collection), Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project (WVHP), and University Archives, as well as a number of Digital Collections available online. Though many items are fairly standard formats, such as books, music scores, and documents, there are a few unique artifacts that do not fit neatly into prefabricated enclosures, or any enclosures for that matter. There will always be exceptions to 'the rules' and a need to develop creative solutions for proper storage.

Textiles, namely clothing, also comprise a portion of our archives collection. We have early 20th century physical education uniforms, a number of class jackets, and military uniforms in the WVHP Collection beginning with an example from WWI. We also have other types of non-paper items requiring specialized storage solutions, such as ceramic mugs or class pins.

Equally important to how items are housed, is the need to regularly monitor the entire storage environment. Perhaps the single most important act of prevention is remaining observant. Our staff makes a point of walking the stacks daily to check for any changes or issues. This practice allows for early detection if there ever is an issue – a burst pipe, an insect infestation, a mold bloom, etc. Also, simply remaining alert when pulling an item for a patron allows for one more set of eyes regularly monitoring our collections.

Left: Prefabricated textiles boxes; Right: Early 20th Century
physical education uniform carefully packed with archival tissue
Generally, the optimal temperature for archival storage is in the range of 68-72 degrees (Farenheit) with a relative humidity (rH) of 45-55%. However, more important than achieving an exact temperature and rH is the need to avoid extreme fluctuations. We often see a lower rH level in the winter months and a higher level in the summer, or after an extended period of rain.​ (What is relative humidity?) SCUA is housed in a portion of the library that was built in the 1950s. As you might imagine, the challenges of maintaining temperature and humidity can prove to be a challenge. We have several dehumidifiers ready to go should our rH exceed acceptable levels.

Carolyn Shankle, Special Collections Specialist
conducting a daily walk-through of the collection
UV light can be very damaging to the items stored in SCUA, such as causing inks or photographs to fade, or bleaching paper. For this reason, it is not uncommon for special collections and archives to be housed in windowless rooms. In the case of SCUA, some windows are completely covered while others use a combination of window blinds and a special UV protection film on the windows.

Water sensors, have been deployed in areas where there is a concern that water damage might occur. These are particularly useful as a warning system during nights or weekends when SCUA staff are not present. For example, if a pipe were to leak, these sensors are wired to an alarm system and can be a great tool for early detection of water damage.

Since SCUA is part of the larger UNC Greensboro ecosystem, some of the protocol and preparedness actions we follow are mandates that apply to any part of the university. For example, the library receives an annual inspection by the Fire Marshall each year and all the fire extinguishers in the library are regularly checked to ensure they are in proper working order. The library also conducts fire drills as part of the University emergency preparedness plan.​

A librarian working in small library or archive that is not housed in a larger institution, may be responsible for creating the emergency preparedness plan, including scheduling inspections, creating a map of emergency exits, etc. Having a plan in place and quick access to information is key. At UNC Greensboro, we have a library-wide Emergency Preparedness Plan, which is available in a LibGuide on the library website. Various potential emergencies are addressed in the plan, but it includes such pertinent information as phone numbers, maps, locations of the mobile disaster kits, etc. ​

Mobile Disaster Kits, are staged within SCUA and throughout the library. The kits include sponges, tarps, a flashlight, scissors, tape, and other items helpful for quickly addressing issues such as a burst pipe or other flooding event. Staff know where the units are located in the event of an emergency. In an ongoing water leak event, such as a leaky pipe or roof leak, water diverters (funnels that can be hung under a leak to catch and redirect water) can be deployed to mitigate any further damage until the leak is repaired.
Mobile Disaster Kits such as the one pictured
are staged throughout the library

Much of our daily work is in conservation - repairing items that have been damaged in their use or due to the age of the item and its exposure to the environment over a long period of time. However, the steps mentioned above, such as limiting UV light exposure, monitoring temperature and rH, and being prepared in the event of a disaster, are all part of our overall Preservation Plan.

Recently, Keith Gorman, Assistant Dean for SCUA, engaged his graduate-level Archives course in a discussion about the need to rethink how archivists prepare for disasters. He wrote, "Over the past 50 years, archivists have been encouraged to consider disaster preparedness in terms of a localized event (a water leak, a fire, a flood, or a storm). Hurricane Katrina's destructive impact on the Gulf Coast forced archivists to rethink the way they manage risk and protect collections. Katrina was a regional/national event. Its impact was not just limited to a single library or archive. When Katrina made landfall, most cultural heritage disaster plans had not factored in such a scale of destruction. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, archivists started to factor in the effects of global climate change into their planning. For example, the frequency, scale, and intensity of weather events now appears to be increasing."

As we experience the effects of a changing global climate, we will need to consider the adequacy of our overall plan with a much broader perspective, especially our disaster preparedness. It is with that mindset that we will regularly reevaluate and update our Preservation Plan here at UNC Greensboro Libraries.