Managing Risks for Yale Library’s Collections

Preservation Librarian Tara Kennedy removing an item from an acidic housing

Risk management is central to most preservation and conservation programs and activities. The Center monitors collection storage and display areas to detect deviations from the stable environments that are ideal for extending the life of collections. For a Library as large as Yale’s, this is a major responsibility. Mixed-use spaces, with people and collections, require compromises. Places like the Library Shelving Facility create an almost perfect environment for many collection materials. The cooler temperatures and stable humidity add many useable years to books, photographs, paper documents, films, and tapes.

Yale's Library Shelving Facility holds 7.5 million items in over 66,000 square feet of shelving space. Photo: Robbie Short

Emergency Planning and Response

Emergency situations in a library setting can range from a leaking roof to a fire on a delivery truck. The Center leads collections-related emergency planning and response activities during an event and work with recovery vendors to salvage materials in large-scale emergencies. They also provide disaster preparedness and response training to staff.

Preservation staff are also responsible for keeping the Library Collections Emergency Plan and Collection Prioritization maps current. A good plan gathers critical information into one place for reference. Preservation and conservation staff work closely with building facilities and security staff to coordinate planning and response efforts.

Preservation Librarian Tara Kennedy (left) and University Librarian Barbara Rockenbach assess and inventory books that were damaged when a sprinkler line froze and burst in Bass Library in January 2021.

Other Risk Mitigation Activities

Preservation and conservation staff also provide staff guides on topics like safe transport of special collections and offer training to help them to apply preservation best practices in various aspects of their daily work.

During construction and renovation projects, preservation librarians work with Facilities and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety to protect collections from dust and debris. Preservation staff consult on building projects and collection moves to try to identify issues and propose alternatives that avoid costly clean-up or collection treatment as a result of construction or renovation work.

Using collections safely

Handling collections

Moving collections

Protecting collections in construction

Environmental Monitoring

Dataloggers, electronic devices that take and record temperature and relative humidity, are used throughout the Library to monitor and improve the collection storage environments. The Preservation Department at YUL use Preservation Environmental Monitors, or PEMs for short,  from the Image Permanence Institute to collect temperature and relative humidity information.

Preservation Environmental Monitors are used to record temperature and relative humidity in locations throughout the Library.

Preservation staff analyze reports from these devices, like those pictured below, and work closely with building facilities managers when there are unusual changes that might adversely affect the stability of the collections.

Exhibition-Related Risks

Staff also monitor the light levels in exhibition areas using the gray device seen in the case below. Data is collected throughout the duration of each exhibit and allows staff to evaluate the potential risks of fading for objects.

A special datalogger gathers light measurements that inform exhibit decisions














A spectrodensitometer, shown above, is used in the conservation laboratory to measure objects’ color components before and after display to detect any changes. This information will inform future exhibitions and loan decisions.

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