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Communicating the Value of Preservation - Working With Facilities … a Cautionary Tale

Anne Thomason, Archivist and Special Collections Librarian, Lake Forest College

As one who values preservation and its value for my collection, I hoped to write a piece about a successful effort working with our campus facilities staff to improve the environmental conditions in our Archives and Special Collections at Lake Forest College. Alas, the story does not have an entirely happy ending although it does not necessarily have an unhappy ending. I consider my communication efforts a work in progress, and believe that the environmental problems that occasionally afflict our area will continue to be addressed.  

The climate control system was not functioning optimally, with wide fluctuations between 72 degrees and 62 degrees in the course of a couple of hours. Nobody seemed to know how the system worked, and every week I placed a work order to have the fluctuating temperatures addressed, as consistency is ideal for special collections materials. Placing a work order did not solve the problem as the people working on the system did not understand the underlying reasons behind the many work orders.

Then during a biweekly staff appreciation event, I gave a tour of the archives to staff, including the facilities administrative assistant. After talking about the archives to the group and explaining why preservation matters, the administrative assistant set up a meeting with the facilities personnel responsible for our HVAC system. By going beyond the work order system and talking personally with staff, I made a great deal more progress building a relationship between the two departments.

When we met with the facilities personnel, we discovered water streaming from the unit. Later, the facilities department brought in an outside company to fix the system. In addition, there were other issues with the system fixed including an issue with toxins building up in the coolant. However, our original issue with the temperature fluctuations remains. While the problem was not solved, I learned that direct outreach works.

To find some perspective on my local efforts to control temperature fluctuation, I talked to colleagues at other institutions, including the amazing members of the CARLI Preservation Committee. While problems exist, they are not that bad, and are fairly common for a smaller archives. Our facilities team at the College works hard to solve problems across campus, from week-long power outages to helping bring new buildings online. My job is to keep the Archives on their radar, so when we are faced with a true environmental problem, they will be willing to help and understand why having proper conditions matter.

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