An audience of library, archives, museum, and facilities staff at Harvard gathered at the Starr Auditorium in the Kennedy School of Government on March 30, to hear William P. Lull discuss environmental monitoring within the context of cultural repositories. The seminar was sponsored by the Weissman Preservation Center in the Harvard University Library and Preservation & Imaging Services in the Harvard College Library.

Mr. Lull is principle and senior conservation environment consultant for Garrison/Lull, Inc.; Adjunct Associate Professor of Building Technology at New York University; and author of Conservation Environment Guidelines for Libraries and Archives. He has worked as a designer and project manager for architects, engineers and government agencies; and has been an instrumental participant in the construction and renovation of a great many facilities that house library, archives, and museum collections.

While temperature, relative humidity, light, and air quality are well-understood factors in determining the rate at which paper, cloth, leather, glass, plastics, metals, and other materials decay, techniques for monitoring environmental conditions are less well documented and understood. The purpose of the seminar was to introduce practical, affordable strategies for conducting ongoing environmental assessment, a critical activity for identifying and correcting minor and major facilities problems.

Mr. Lull began the program by delineating four types of environmental monitoring programs, and emphasizing the importance of articulating an institution’s environmental goals to be certain that relevant information is collected in the monitoring process. He also noted that as a consultant he assists institutions in their efforts to create and sustain appropriate collections storage conditions. He is a frequent consumer of the results of monitoring programs. This perspective has made him a strong advocate for collecting environmental data that meet the needs of the people who design, construct, and maintain building systems. Through experience Mr. Lull has learned much about the types of data that can support effective problem solving.

According to Mr. Lull, preservation and collections librarians, curators, and archivists must be acutely aware of the mechanisms that damage the collections in their care. These can be characterized as mechanical (that is, physical), chemical, and biological factors. Those closest to the collection must understand each of these threats in order to be able to work with facilities managers and engineers to match environment conditions to the needs of the collections. In so doing, the potential for damage can be minimized and the overall rate of aging slowed. Environmental monitoring programs are most useful when all parties concerned are involved in collecting and evaluating results.

After creating a context for discussing monitoring programs, Mr. Lull reviewed in detail a series of environmental goals as well as methods for monitoring conditions. Temperature, humidity, light (including intensity, ultraviolet light, and color temperature), particulate matter, and gaseous contaminants were discussed. In most cases, various pieces of equipment useful for both spot monitoring and monitoring over time were reviewed, with mention made of the types of instruments that are easily found on the market and the strengths and shortcomings of each. Routine handling and calibration of the equipment were mentioned, with much attention given to real world experience.

A broad range of devices was explained over the course of the morning, including humidity strips, hygrometers, RH meters and sensors, and psychrometers for measuring relative humidity and calibrating instruments; hygrothermographs and dataloggers for measuring and recording temperature and relative humidity over time; light meters, textile fading strips, and dataloggers for measuring and recording various characteristics of light; particle counters for measuring particulate matter in air; and a variety of monitors for measuring harmful gaseous contaminants—such as indicator strips that assess the degree to which cellulose acetate film has deteriorated.

Jan Merrill-Oldham, Malloy-Rabinowitz Preservation Librarian in the Harvard University Library and the Harvard College Library, highlighted for the participants, one of the many handouts distributed at the conference. The document describes two dataloggers, each of which record temperature and relative humidity at fixed intervals and support the uploading of data into a computer for manipulation. The differences in the capabilities of the two instruments reveal the tradeoffs that collections managers must make in planning and implementing a monitoring program. Ms. Merrill-Oldham also noted that Weissman Preservation Center staff is available with assistance in ordering and calibrating datalogger equipment.

As the morning drew to a close, Mr. Lull reviewed general considerations in establishing an environmental monitoring program, from the need to establish a clear, accurate description of current services and facilities (air handlers, chillers, steam pipes, etc) to the placement and rotation of instrumentation when it is not possible to place equipment in every room for which documentation is desired. He reminded participants that maintaining a simple log that notes such events as a major storm, or shutdown of a chiller for servicing, is critical to developing an understanding of how a building responds to various conditions and how it can be brought under better control.

The Weissman Preservation Center may be reached by phone (495-8596),or online (http://preserve.harvard.edu/).


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