Influence of the environment on collections in mass storage

Pass, Ami, Colston, Belinda and Knight, Barry (2011) Influence of the environment on collections in mass storage. In: The Science of Objects and Collections, 11 April 2011, London.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Lecture)
Item Status:Live Archive


There have been a significant number of developments in the design of archive and library storage over the past two decades. A notable design feature is to create high density, automated facilities similarly used in the commercial warehouse sector. This borrowed technology has been adapted to meet the necessary standards for the storage of paper-based material (BS 5454), notably introducing facilities to aid in preservation quality environmental conditions. The British Library, in response to the demand for increased storage, has built one such facility in Boston Spa. As well as providing storage for 20% of its total collection, the new facility also has a sophisticated building management system that goes beyond simple temperature and relative humidity control. It also offers a reduction in the oxygen content of the atmosphere, one of the major catalysts for decay, as part of the fire suppression system.
Like many other institutions the British Library has been renting space from the commercial sector, however these type of buildings have not been designed to meet library or archive storage standards. The Armstrong Gun Factory situated in Woolwich has been used by the British Library as additional storage. Built in 1858, the building offers basic environmental control and as such the collection is at risk to varying environmental conditions which rarely conform to the British standard (BS 5454). The collection housed here has therefore been transferred to the new facility. This presented a unique opportunity to study, and gain an understanding of, how a real collection will respond to moving from a historic building environment to a highly controlled, low oxygen conservation environment.
Ten books containing temperature and humidity recording data loggers were placed within the mass of books in the Woolwich collection. Following equilibration to the environment, the ‘dummy books’ along with the Woolwich collection were transferred to the new facility in Boston Spa where they continue to record until September 2012. The dummy books will record any environmental changes experienced by the collection as they move from one environment to another. There will be over 2 years worth of environmental data which will be analysed along with the data from the building management system.
It has been well documented that temperature and humidity are known environmental influences. This research also hopes to understand the influence of the buffering capacity of the mass of paper on the interaction of the collection with the environment and how this may effect the preservation of the collection. To what extent does the paper mass govern the interaction and even the internal storage conditions? The degradative state of the collection, the average age of the collection, may also influence how it interacts with the environment. Does an ageing collection respond the same as a relatively newly printed collection? In addition to this the effect of a reduced oxygen environment, and how this influences the collection, is also of interest.
In order to understand the changes influenced by the collection, and quantify said changes, laboratory based investigations are occurring in tandem to the in situ research. The effect of the buffering capacity will be explored by exposing single sheets, and then building up to stacks of books, to varying environmental conditions and measuring the response. The effect of a reduced oxygen environment (between 5 and 15%) on the decay rate of paper is being explored by subjecting paper samples to accelerated ageing conditions (80°C) in a controlled oxygen and humidity environment. Samples are then analysed for pH, colour and mechanical changes. Markers to measure the influence of the environment are also being developed including using moisture sorption as a potential degradation marker.

Keywords:Mass storage, Paper-based collections, Low oxygen environments
Subjects:F Physical Sciences > F200 Materials Science
F Physical Sciences > F140 Environmental Chemistry
W Creative Arts and Design > W160 Fine Art Conservation
F Physical Sciences > F100 Chemistry
Divisions:College of Science > School of Life Sciences
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ID Code:10691
Deposited On:08 Jul 2013 20:56

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