Walking into a special collections library can be a flood of sensory experiences – the sight of old, rare bindings and boxes neatly lined up on shelves, a hushed quiet, smooth steel shelves, the lovely, familiar smell of old books, and….freezing cold temperatures?!
At least, that is the experience you’d have visiting Pepperdine’s new state-of-the-art preservation environment, where we keep the rooms at a cool 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% relative humidity. These are the conditions that best preserve cultural heritage materials, and due to the generosity of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), we were able to provide just such an environment.
These cold vaults house the university’s rare and unique cultural heritage materials, including rare books, vintage newspapers, historic audio and video recordings, and old photographs and negatives, all of which are used for original research by students and scholars. Scientists have determined that lowering temperature and humidity is one of the best ways to slow the harmful chemical reactions that cause deterioration in cultural heritage materials.
Payson Library’s 16-month renovation, completed just over a year ago, was the perfect timing to make these changes to our Special Collections storage areas. The NEH funded a new high-tech heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system that allows us to keep the room’s cool, dry air stable. The vaults also include LED light fixtures, which minimize light-related damage to collections, as well as archivally safe finishes on the shelves and floors. One of the best parts of partnering with the NEH is their emphasis on sustainability. Through a low number of air exchanges, a tightly sealed environment, and new, efficient equipment, we are able to keep maintenance costs low and impact on the environment minimal.
All of these recent changes allow us to extend the usable life of our Special Collections materials, ensuring they will be available for generations of researchers to come. In the year since the re-opening, each time we walk into the preservation environment and feel the rush of cold air, we are grateful to know that we are being good stewards of the historic resources entrusted to our care and relied upon by so many for historical research. But we might consider investing in parkas!
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