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Preservation at the DRT Library, Part 2

May 20, 2010

A blog entry posted earlier this week highlighted some of the ways in which storage facilities, furniture, and materials at the DRT Library help preserve valuable collections. In this follow-up piece, we highlight some of the other preservation activities undertaken at the Library as well as preservation challenges and issues facing the institution.

Fire protection: The main library, support offices, and vault are protected by a Sapphire Clean Agent system containing 3M Novec 1230 fire protection fluid. Novec 1230 fluid is stored as a liquid but expelled as a gas; this is important because water used to extinguish a fire poses a secondary threat to library and archival collections by creating a breeding ground for mold. The fluid is low in toxicity and environmental impact. Additionally, fire alarm pull stations and fire extinguishers are located throughout the library and adjoining Alamo Hall.

A fire suppression system control station at the Library.

Disaster planning: The DRT Library has a disaster preparedness plan and recovery manual that contains emergency contact information; emergency procedures; information about salvaging various types of materials damaged by water; and maps of evacuation routes and locations of fire extinguishers and fire alarm pulls.

Access and handling: Access to the vault and to other areas where collections are stored is restricted to library staff members. The vault is also locked when the library is closed. Visitors, researchers, and staff are required to follow all procedures when handling collection materials. Almost all of these guidelines are designed to provide access to library and archival collections while simultaneously protecting materials – many of them irreplaceable – from theft and damage.

Security and cleaning: Additional support in these areas is provided by two Alamo departments. The Alamo Rangers provide on-site security for the library, twenty-hours each day, 365 days each year. Additionally, Alamo housekeeping staff members clean the library each day. Something as simple as emptying trash cans throughout the facility is important for preserving library collections; this task, for example, removes trash that might attract rodents, insects, and other pests.

Conservation: Many materials in the Library’s collections have received more comprehensive treatments (e.g. cleaning and stabilization) from expert, professional conservators. The money needed for such conservation work is provided through the Cathy Herpich preservation fund, created and named in honor of a previous DRT Library director. This fund is sustained through donations.

Some materials, like this letter, arrive at the Library with damage such as stains, holes, and damage from previous preservation treatments (e.g. tape) that do not meet current professional standards. Being housed in a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment and acid-free enclosures will help prevent further deterioration.

The activities and policies outlined in the previous blog post and above are just some of the preservation efforts undertaken by DRT Library staff members. While this work has been largely successful, there remains room for improvement and the library faces some pressing preservation issues. These needs include

  • a comprehensive preservation plan;
  • a plan for preserving electronic and digital materials;
  • cold storage for unstable materials such as film and color photographs;
  • improved storage conditions for the artwork collection;
  • and conservation treatments for some items, particularly the Susanna and Angelina Dickinson petticoats.

However, the most pressing concern facing the DRT Library is a lack of space. Adequate space is important to safely store and handle existing collections and to responsibly acquire new materials. The issue is particularly acute for oversize materials such as maps and architectural plans and drawings. The size of these items makes them unwieldy to handle, and many of them that should be in the vault are not due to space limitations.

References:

Kay Garsnett, “A Preservation Evaluation of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo,” paper completed for “Preservation of Information Media” class, School of Information Studies, University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, December 2009.

Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler, Preserving Archives and Manuscripts (2009).

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