As I trudged across campus this morning, enjoying the sunshine and balmy, 20-degree F temperature after a week in the single digits, I found myself  considering the impact that the Iowa climate has on our preservation mission.  I reminded myself to review the most recent batch of environmental data recorded by the data loggers in our structurally-challenged, remote Library Storage Building, and started mentally girding myself for the inevitable spring thaw.

View from Special Collections, Parks Library, Iowa State University

In a perfect world, every library and cultural institution would have energy-efficient, reliable, and effective HVAC systems in place to control the indoor climate.  (O.k., in my perfect world, the temperature never drops into the single digits, but you know where I’m going with this…)  Very few institutions enjoy the luxury of working with ideal conditions, so the rest of us do our best to learn the quirks of the climate we live in, and to deal with the impact of that climate as proactively as possible.

Here in Iowa, we deal with a surprisingly broad climate range.  Temperatures can drop to zero on the worst days of winter, with windchill blowing at 20-below.  As you can imagine, the air can be uncomfortably dry this time of year (the RH in my office is at 10% today).  During the summer, temperatures regularly reach into the 90s, with humidity frequently spiking above 80%, bringing concerns about mold and mildew. Heavy year-round precipitation means that ice and snow are a challenge in the winter, while flooding is a common risk for the spring and summer.  The same climate conditions that make Iowa a fertile agricultural environment also make it a challenging place to care for heritage materials.

Climate plays a role in determining what pests may threaten a collection.  When I lived in Texas, I often found geckos in the sticky pheremone traps we used for integrated pest management monitoring.  Geckos present no real danger to collection materials, but unfortunately, they were attracted by the delicious buffet of other bugs in the traps.  In Iowa, we don’t have geckos, but we do see plenty of crickets, common pill bugs (“roly-polies”), asian lady beetles, and small house spiders — overall, a fairly benign collection of critters compared with other parts of the country.  (Incidentally, the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin offers some great advice about dealing with insect infestations in collections materials.)

Climate can also impact sustainability initiatives within the preservation environment.  For example, the extent to which indoor energy costs can be reduced must be balanced against how extreme the seasonal weather fluctuations are, and the necessary HVAC settings to protect the collection.

Trinidad. Photo credit: http://www.panjan.bizid9.html

As I negotiated ISU’s icy footpaths today, I couldn’t help wondering what climate-related concerns were weighing on the mind of a conservator colleague down in Trinidad.  I might envy those tropical, Caribbean breezes from a personal perspective, but I’m sure they bear their own preservation challenges.  What climate-related preservation challenges does your cultural institution, private practice, or home residence face?

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