Northeast Document Conservation Center Preservation Specialist Sean Ferguson visited OU to help implement an environmental monitoring program.

Northeast Document Conservation Center Preservation Specialist Sean Ferguson visited OU to help implement an environmental monitoring program.

Photo provided by Oakland University


Grants help preserve archives at Oakland University

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published January 29, 2020

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Oakland University has been given funds to preserve records chronicling the university’s history, as well as original materials on the history of Oakland County, the Civil War, women’s studies and other fields.

The university recently received a $9,943 preservation assistance grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund an environmental monitoring program that will help library staff improve preservation of the OU Archives and Special Collections.

Archives and Special Collections Coordinator Dominique Daniel said the OU Archives and Special Collections are a trove of books, newspapers, photos, microfilm, audio/visual materials and artifacts — many of which are centuries old and are held exclusively by OU.

She said the new environmental monitoring program will benefit all of the university’s collections, including more than 100,000 photographs, some 19,000 books, 2,000 linear feet of manuscripts, historical newspapers, thousands of maps and hundreds of artifacts.

This is OU’s second preservation assistance grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2018, the university received a $6,000 grant that funded a general assessment of its archival policies and practices.

“The preservation assessment resulted in a report with multiple recommendations. One of the recommendations was to do what we did with the second grant, an environmental  monitoring program, and also purchasing some supplies for our rare books,” Daniel said.

As part of the second grant, Sean Ferguson, a preservation specialist at the Northeast Document Conservation Center, visited campus to advise library staff on program implementation and help place data loggers at strategic locations throughout the archives and collections.

The devices record data on temperature and relative humidity, which Ferguson said are two of the most important factors influencing an item’s preservation.

“When temperature and relative humidity are too high in a storage space, it increases the rate at which chemical reactions occur and break down books, papers — anything that would be important to store in archives and special collections,” Ferguson said in a statement.

To monitor storage spaces, the data loggers were placed in close proximity to archival materials, where they will record data at 30-minute intervals each day. The data will be uploaded monthly to environmental monitoring software, and after one year, will be used to assess the environmental quality of storage spaces and determine which spaces are best for preserving the most vulnerable materials.

“Based on the data, we can change the storage locations of the most sensitive items,” Daniel said. “We can also eliminate micro-climates in storage spaces that may have uniquely bad environmental conditions.”

Until this point, Daniel said, environmental monitoring had largely been conducted “anecdotally” with basic thermometers and hygrometers.

“If you improve the environment that the collections are in, then you are going to improve their longevity significantly,” Daniel explained. “The hope with the monitoring of temperatures and relative humidity is that we’ll have data that will allow us to find things to improve in our current storage and also apply for more funding to buy equipment that will improve the environment. That’s the ultimate goal with that part of the project.”

For more information about OU libraries, visit library.oakland.edu.

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