Most of what happens in Sanders’ laboratory is remedial maintenance, that is, preserving documents once they have already been damaged. But, explained the conservator, preventative care is just as important.
“Storage is chiefly about controlling temperature, light, and humidity. Each of those three factors can create and accelerate chemical reactions that can age our collections,” said Sanders. It’s no surprise, then, that the Auxiliary Library Facility has three sprawling warehouses to hold collections in precisely the best conditions for their preservation.
The storage facilities house over 4.2 million documents in an area of 89,721 square feet. Their 13-inch concrete walls block out sunlight and Bloomington weather, maintaining a precise 50º Fahrenheit and 35% relative humidity at all times.
A few dozen feet from the storage facilities, a machine the size of a king-sized bed cuts each box to custom-fit its contents. These unassuming cardboard cutouts are a conservator’s best friend. “Boxes allow us some buffer against rapid changes in humidity and temperature,” described Sanders. “Temperature has to heat the box up first before it can heat up the contents. Moisture has to soften a box first before its contents.”
With boxes as a first line of defense and remedial methods at the ready, the Auxiliary Library Facility is well prepared to safeguard IU’s collections.