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4. Getting started

4.1 Examining the building
4.2 The overall situation
4.3 The structure of the building
4.4 Inspecting the spaces in the building
4.5 The storage and exhibition rooms
4.6 The furnace and/or machinery rooms
4.7 Basement and attic storerooms.
4.8 Administrative spaces.
4.9 Utility rooms and closets.


In order to begin a preservation program in a library or an archive it is first necessary to have reliable information on the condition of the books and records in it. It is equally important to know when those books and records are found not to be in reasonably good repair why that is so. As mentioned in the first chapter there may have been several contributing factors when materials are damaged. What is required then is a systematic method for observing and recording the condition of collections and the environments in which they are kept. Only by doing that can a person get sufficient factual information on the situation in a particular establishment from which conclusions can be drawn and recommendations made for subsequent corrective action when that is necessary.

Other methods for conservation surveys have been used with good success at Stanford University (5), the Nebraska Historical Society (10), Yale University (29), the Library of Congress (28), and elsewhere in the United States and in Europe. The procedure described in this chapter was developed over a period of many years and is well suited for use by librarians and archivists who have had little conservation experience.

This is a method for assembling on previously prepared forms (see the annex) data that (a) can be used later to evaluate buildings, and the exterior and interior environments, as they relate to the conservation needs of the collections; (b) provides information on the storage and handling procedures; and (c) describes the condition of the books and records in the stacks. From that data conclusions can be made in regard to the preservation needs of that particular institution. Then it will be possible to make recommendations, with a list of priorities, to meet those needs. Those recommendations will, of course, have to reflect other management considerations as well as the preservation requirements.

When using the forms, described and illustrated in the annex, for recording the prevailing conditions, careful observation and explicit notations (using the space on the backs of the forms if necessary) will be time well spent. The following are suggestions for the questions to ask, and matters to pursue, as the survey progresses.

4.1 Examining the building

4.2 The overall situation

4.2.1 The location

Is the institution on the seacoast or inland; on a flood plain or in a river bottom; in a tornado or hurricane area; in an earthquake zone; in an urban, suburban or rural area; near an industrial complex?

4.2.2 The regional climate

Is the weather seasonally hot and humid or cold and damp? Are you in a desert region or a rain forest? In a tropical, sub-tropical, or temperate zone?

4.3 The structure of the building

Architecture. Is the structure built of wood, metal, stone, brick or combinations of those materials? What is its general appearance and condition?

The roof. Is it flat or pitched. Is it made of slate; felt tar and gravel; copper or tin; wood or asphalt shingles? What is its age and condition? Does it leak? Is it insulated?

Is the foundation solid and dry? Are the windows and doors tight? Are the walls insulated? In cold climates are there double windows and doors to prevent heat loss in the wintertime?

Where are the lavatories, kitchens, and utility rooms in relation to the stacks?

4.3.1 The interior climate

Determining the interior climatatic conditions is best done by recording the temperature and humidity over a considerable period of time. The opinions of people who work in the building are also useful. It is important to know if it is possible to comfortably heat and cool the storage and exhibition rooms throughout the year; if the basement is damp; if the attic is hot and humid in the summer and cold and damp in the winter? Are some rooms hotter or colder than others?

4.3.2 The heating system

Is the building heated by oil, coal, wood, gas, or electricity? Is there a central heating system? Are there heat exchange units on the ceilings in the various spaces? If it is a central system is the heat distributed by hot water or steam to radiators or by forced air through ducts? What is the age and condition of the machinery? Is it well serviced and maintained? Is the heat turned down (or off), for economy, at night or on weekends and during holidays? How is the humidity controlled when the system is in operation?

4.3.3 Space cooling

Is there a central forced air cooling system with air ducts? Are there individual cooling units on the ceilings in various spaces? Are there window mounted air conditioners? If there is cooling by ceiling units, trace the routing for the piping for the cooling (or heating) water supplied to them. If it is a central system what is its age and what is the condition of the machinery? The condition of the ducting. The number and type of air filters- how often are they replaced? Is the system on all day, every day or is it used as needed for personal comfort?

4.3.4 Humidity control

In cold climates are there provisions for replacing air moisture loss (because of low humidity) in the air when the heating system is in operation? How is that humidification provided and controlled? In warm climates are there provisions for removing surplus moisture (high humidity) from the air in the building? How is that dehumidification controlled? Is it possible to keep the humidity within acceptable limits from day to day, year round?

4.3.5 Building security

Are the windows barred? Are there crash bars on the exterior doors? Are there dead bolt locks on the doors? Who has control of the keys? Which staff members have keys?

Are there interior and/or exterior security patrols by uniformed watchmen? How often? Is there an alarm (called a "tattle-tale" in the United States) at the check-out desk that is activated when a person attempts to conceal a book when leaving the library through the checkout station.

Is there an intruder detection system? If so what type? When is it activated? Where and how is it monitored? Are there sensors on the doors and windows? If the sensing devices are in the interior of the building, where are they?

4.3.6 Fire protection

Is there a fire detection system? If so is it by heat or smoke sensing devices? Where are they? How and where are they monitored? How frequently is the system tested? Is there a fire alarm (bells, etc.) to alert the staff and patrons when there is a fire?

Is there an automatic fire suppression system? If so is it water sprinklers, foam, carbon dioxide, or halogens (Freons)? When was it last tested?

Are there portable fire extinguishers in the building? How many are there and where are they located? Are they the right type for suppressing wood and paper fires? Does the staff know how to use them?

Are there automatically operated fire doors? Where? Are they unobstructed? When were they last tested?

4.3.7 Staff resources

Lastly make some notations on form A in regard to the skills and experience in conservation that the staff may have acquired in their academic training, or by participation in conservation seminars and workshops. This will be useful later when evaluating the assembled data and determining what in-house conservation measures can be proposed for completion by staff or by student help and volunteers under staff supervision.

At the same time notations should be made, in the space provided on the form, in regard to any conservation facilities already in place. That could be anything from a worktable, with a few knives and scissors and a paste pot, in an obscure corner in the basement to a fully equipped and well stocked bookbindery.

4.4 Inspecting the spaces in the building

(Using Forms B1 and B2)

Separate data forms should be prepared for each room or space in the building from the attic to the basement - even the office spaces, janitors rooms, storage closets, staff rooms, and snack bars. It must be remembered that while the temperature, humidity, lighting, and methods of storage in the stacks and exhibition rooms are the principle factors affecting the condition of the books and records on the shelves there, those materials are also affected to some extent by the conditions in the other spaces. A fire hazard in the furnace room imperils the entire building. Water vapor from constantly wet basements moves horizontally and vertically into every part of the building. Fire caused by overloaded electrical circuits in the offices (typewriters, duplicating machines, computers, electric coffee pots, etc.) could very rapidly move into the stacks. Massive movement of heat through the roof (in or out depending on the season) creates extremes of heat and cold in the attic spaces, which in turn affect the entire building. Rats and mice and other vermin, abundant in cluttered basement and attic storerooms, invariably find their way from there into the stacks and reading rooms. Cleaning fluids and other housekeeping supplies, kept in lockers and closets for the convenience of the maintenance staff, are potential sources of fire by spontaneous combustion. One must not assume that insects which often thrive and multiply in staff room kitchens and the snack bars will stay there.

Data for every space in the building should be recorded on separate B1 forms. The B2 form will be useful for recording in greater detail the conditions in the storage and exhibition areas, and in reading rooms and basement and attic spaces that might at some future date be utilized for collections storage.

4.5 The storage and exhibition rooms

4.5.1 Their contents

A brief description of the contents of each room is necessary because optimum storage conditions vary for different categories of library and archival materials. The best humidity for books and paper is 45-55%. For photographic materials 35-45% is better. The generally accepted temperature for rooms containing a variety of materials in constant use is 19-21C. Considerably lower temperatures are best for seldom used materials.

4.5.2 How stored

How library and archival materials are packaged and shelved is of the utmost importance for their preservation. Are the books well supported standing on their tails? Are the large books laying flat on the shelves? Are the cans of rolled film kept standing on edge. Are the boxes of unbound paper records laying flat on the shelves? Are the oversize materials in file folders in map cabinets, or large flat boxes? If not, how are they protected?

The location in the building (ie on which level and on what side) is important because of the effect of the sun, and other outside conditions on the mini-climates inside. Proximity to the basement or attic is significant. Also important is the location relative to lavatory, kitchen or utility spaces. Being under any one of them is always hazardous for books and documents.

Temperature and humidity should be recorded, and averaged, over a period of several weeks, both in winter and summer. That data is easily accumulated in graphical form with recording hygrothermographs, when they are available. It can be done less conveniently, but no less accurately, by making daily observations with thermometers and inexpensive sling psychrometers. This is the only way to determine the degree of temperature and humidity stability, or lack of it, which is so vitally important for the preservation of library and archival materials.

4.5.3 The Housekeeping.

Comments in regard to housekeeping are necessary because good housekeeping is so important for fire safety and pest control.

4.5.4 Their illumination

The number, size, and location of the windows in a room determines the amount of damaging light that reaches the books. Are curtains and blinds in place, and in use, to minimize damage by natural light? In spaces open to the public, which often regards curtains and drapes as a nuisance, ultra-violet (UV) filtering film on the windows is effective. Is there UV film on the windows in this room? The ideal situation is to have closed stacks with no windows or in which the windows have been permanently blocked with wood, brick or other building materials. Could that been done in this room?

Is the artificial lighting by incandescent bulbs or fluorescent tubes? Incandescent lamps are safe - fluorescent tubes radiate ultra-violet energy. If there is fluorescent lighting, are there UV filtering sleeves on the tubes to eliminate that source of damage?

4.5.5 Heating and cooling.

If the room is heated by steam or water radiators where are they located? If they are too close to the shelves they could be "cooking" the books. Are the radiators blocked by stacks or cabinets so that the room is not being uniformly heated?

If the room is heated and/or cooled by conditioned air from a central system, where are the inlet and outlet ducts? Are they blocked by shelves and cabinets so that the heating and cooling is affected or not uniformly distributed?

Is there auxiliary heating (electric heaters) or cooling (window mounted air conditioners) to help control the temperature?

4.5.6 Humidity control

How effective is the control of humidity in this room? If there is circulated air for heating and cooling, how is humidified in the winter and dehumidified in the summer? Is that sufficient to stabilize the humidity year round?

If the heating and cooling is by radiators and air conditioners are there portable humidifiers and dehumidifiers to help stabilize the humidity in that particular room?

4.5.7 Security.

Is the room open to the public? If so is there a staff monitor always in the room? Does that person have a good view of the entire room? If there is TV surveillance is it constantly monitored?

If there are collections of materials in cabinets and drawers are they kept locked.?

Are the windows barred? Are they sensitized? Is there an intruder alarm in the room?

4.5.8 Fire considerations.

Are there any accumulations of combustible materials (empty boxes, holiday decorations, unemptied waste baskets)?

Do the housekeepers keep solvents and other cleaning materials in a locker or closet in this room? Is there a sprinkler system, or a standpipe with a firehose? Are there portable fire extinguishers? Does the staff know how to use them?

If there is an electric heater, or any other electrical equipment, is it "Underwriter Approved" and in good condition?

What is the age and condition of the electric wiring? When was it last inspected? Are any of the electric outlets in the walls overloaded with wires leading to copy machines, typewriters, coffee pots, etc.?

4.5.9 Water hazards

If there is a sprinkler system (or a standpipe with a fire hose attached) when was it last inspected?

Are there any stains on the ceiling and walls that suggest roof leaks, rain water penetration through the walls, leaking pipes, defective steam and hot water radiators? If so has the source been located? Has the problem been corrected?

Are there water pipes and drains of any kind (other than sprinkler pipes) running across the ceiling over the shelves and cabinets? What are they for? Are they in good condition? If they should burst or leak what would happen to the materials on the shelves? Can they be rerouted?

Other problems

Has there been any insect damage to the books and records? Is it recent? Are there dead insects on the shelves, in boxes, in cabinets? Can you find small piles of sawdust-like material on the shelves under the books? If so that could be bookworming. Opening randomly selected books will reveal shredded pages if termites are present, or tunnelling if there has been bookworming.

Is there evidence of rats (rats excrete black pellets) on the shelves, under stacks, behind cabinets? What about mice? Mice excrete looks like black rice. Mice sometimes nest in boxes of paper. Families of mice usually select a single place to urinate making large, ugly yellow stains on that surface.

Is there any mildew on the books or boxes? Are there any fungus stains on the pages, end sheets or covers of randomly selected books? Is that staining recent?

If there is a musty odor in the room that means dangerously high humidity which will lead to mould problems. Low humidity will cause vellum book covers to warp.

Are the spines of books fading? If so that means that sunlight with its ultra-violet radiation, or light from unshielded fluorescent tubes, has been reaching the stacks. Has that situation been corrected?

4.6 The furnace and/or machinery rooms

Look into these spaces, that are usually in the basement if there is one, to get an idea of the type of equipment that is being used for heating and cooling the building. What are its designed capabilities? Its shortcomings? Its age and effectiveness? How well is it maintained and serviced? Here it is important to have the willing cooperation of the building superintendent or the maintenance chief. They will usually be more than glad to collaborate if they are made aware that by doing so it could help them get the system upgraded.

It is particularly important to look for fire hazards in furnace and machinery rooms. A greasy film on an oil furnace and the floor around it, and on nearby walls could, if ignited by accident, start a conflagration. Leaking fuel line connections on oil burning equipment are even more dangerous. Slipshod maintenance, careless housekeeping, and accumulations of debris of any sort in these rooms is foolhardy.

Exposed, and sometimes loose, electric wiring is dangerous, particularly if is old. Attachment of wires to circuit breaker panels and fuse boxes, on one end, and to control boxes on machinery and equipment, on the other, should be tight and clean.

4.7 Basement and attic storerooms.

Although they may now be used only as lumber rooms, these spaces have a potential for use as stack areas as a library grows. For that reason they should be inspected during the survey and notations made on B1 forms in regard to heating, cooling, and humidity control; natural and artificial lighting; security; fire safety; water risks; and pest control. It might even become obvious that it would be advantageous now to convert a storeroom to a stack area and rearrange the shelving of the collections accordingly.

In basement areas moisture control is extremely important. Are the walls and floor waterproof? Is the ceiling laced with plumbing pipes and drains? Where does the water main supplying the building enter the building? Can it be turned off quickly and easily in the event of a burst pipe in the building? Are there drains in the floor, and/or sumps and sump pumps for the removal of unwanted water ? What is the height of the water table, in the adjoining land, relative to the basement floor? Has the basement ever been flooded? If-so what was the cause for that and what is the probability of a recurrence?

In attic areas the important consideration is how well those spaces are isolated from the weather outside. Does the roof leak? Is it sturdy? When was it last recovered? If the roof is flat is it well drained? Are the drains cleared regularly? What information is there on accumulations of snow?

Is the attic ceiling heavily insulated to prevent heat loss in the winter and high solar heating in the summer? Does the building's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system include the attic? If not is it feasible to make it so? What are the natural lighting arrangements - windows, skylights, etc.? What are the potentials for security? Except for occasional building leaks, and sometimes a tank for emergency water supply, there should be few water hazards in the attic. Plumbing pipes and drains will probably all be below the floor.

4.8 Administrative spaces.

These rooms should be checked primarily for fire hazards and evidence of insects and rodents. Staff kitchens and lavatories, particularly those that are located over storage and exhibition areas on the floors below, should be carefully examined to identify water hazards.

4.9 Utility rooms and closets.

Each of these spaces, regardless of where it is in the building, should be checked for fire hazards (accumulations of trash, volatile solvents and undisposed cleaning materials), and evidence of insects, rodents, and illicit smoking. There is also the possibility of water hazards (utility sinks, toilets, etc) that threaten books and records in storage and exhibition areas on lower floors.

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