For the second year in a row, the library will close for eleven days during the week of Christmas and New Year’s (December 23 through January 2) to save money. During last year’s budget crisis, closing the library was suggested to a resounding thud! But after substantiating potential savings and addressing the logistics of shutting the building down, the decision to close the library was made. After the number crunching was done, we saved thousands of dollars in utilities (with the new budget model, each department on campus is responsible for their own utilities and each building has its own meters). Good reason to try it again.
Of course we only agreed to try this with the understanding that we did not want our collections experiencing extreme fluctuations or quick cycles. A ten to fifteen degree cycle over eleven days in 5 degree increments did not seem drastic to us for our circulating collection. The building temperature was slowly lowered to 55 degrees F. The only areas exempt from the temperature change were Special Collections and the film storage room, which are on their own HVAC systems.
All computers were shut down, except for servers, and re-programmed so they would not automatically turn on every morning; staff were given instructions on completely shutting down computers, down to the power strips and any other equipment that could be powered down and unplugged; and all lighting was turned off except for emergency lighting.
Only a handful of administrative staff, building maintenance, and security had access to the building. Bob, who handles our building maintenance, did work that week and performed walk-throughs of the building which included flushing the toilets, because we had experienced the O-rings drying out and leaking in the past. The fire alarm tests were postponed, because we did not want the fire exhaust ducts opening, allowing cold air into the building.
We did experience one hot water pipe breaking during the closure. Heating coils at the base of our front windows are heated by hot water. The valves that supply the hot water had apparently failed years ago. During the closure, these windows got very cold and with the air handlers off, the building had negative pressure drawing freezing air in through the air dampers into the pits where the supply and return pipes are located. One of these pipes froze, but was caught quickly and little damage resulted. The plan is to resolve this issue is to install seasonal thermostats that will supply heat constantly to these pits when a set outdoor temperature is reached. In other words, as long as the outdoor air temperature is below a certain setting, the heat to these pits will always be on.
Three days prior to re-opening, the temperature was slowly raised (perhaps too slowly in some areas). Last year was bitterly cold, so the exterior of the building cooled down quickly and the heating water temperature kept dropping, making heating the air problematic. Also, the newest addition uses perimeter radiant heat, unlike the older parts of the building that have pre-heats or re-heats in the air handlers. The problem with this design in the newest addition was that the air handlers were left on, which ended up circulating untreated air so the radiant heat could not keep up, resulting in temperatures in the low 50s. The collections were not affected by these air handlers, but unfortunately, most of the staff are located in this addition, and they were not happy to come back to 50 degree offices. It took a week to get the temperature moving. The radiant heat system was designed to use the heat load from big windows with southern exposure, people, equipment, and lighting. Heating is not a problem when the building is in daily use.
Aside from the complaints from the frozen staff, there were no other comments from our users. No faculty, student, or researcher had their world thrown into chaos because the library closed for eleven days. This, of course, was the biggest concern when making the decision to close the library.
We are adjusting a few procedures this year. We are hoping for less extreme weather (still working on how to adjust that), but in addition, we are shutting down the air handlers in the new addition so that we don’t continue to circulate 50 degree air, and as a last resort, lights in the new addition will be turned on early to try to raise the temperature. We realize this may be a PR problem, but we will take our chances and justify it with our overall utility savings.
For the future, we may need to consider adding pre-heats to the air handlers in the new addition if we continue to close the library during the winter break. We may be able to get a green loan from the university to cover the cost, and we should be able to re-coop that in a year or two.
We will also be looking at the data more closely and getting access to the MetaSys software so we can make decisions on changing temperature set-points in various parts of the library (public, staff, stacks, etc.), and possibly looking at making other seasonal adjustments. We’ll be interested to hear what is said at the Sustainable Preservation Practices Workshops with Jim Reilly and Peter Herzog. Hopefully, it will assist us in our decision-making process.