“You have a window!”
This is what almost every conservation and preservation specialist exclaims enthusiastically when they come to our Lab. It’s true, we do. Not only do we have a window but it’s a window which, from the right angle, looks out on trees and a park in the distance across the street. It’s wonderful. A luxury we all appreciate.
Why is it a luxury? Well, conservation and preservation labs are usually relegated to basements. They’re often an afterthought. A library, museum or gallery is built. Everything is shiny and new. Then time takes its toll. Collection items age and become brittle or worn. A pipe bursts and materials become wet or moldy. The need for staff familiar with preservation, disaster management and conservation practices as well as their equipment becomes apparent. Where to put them? There’s room in the basement…
There are climate considerations as well. All light but especially sunlight is the enemy of paper, fabric, photographs and other materials common in collections. Heat and humidity pose challenges as well. So the ideal conservation and preservation space where some of the most fragile collection items will be headed for care is one in which all of these can be controlled. Basements don’t tend to have a great deal of natural light, plus they’re naturally cooler than the rest of a building. As long as a basement is well sealed humidity should be taken care of as well. All this makes creating the necessary environment for conservation activities just that much easier in a basement than in, say, an attic.
The Preservation Lab is in a basement (in a space intended by the architect for book storage), but fortunately for us Langsam Library was built into a hill. On the basement level the south side is underground, but the north side extends above ground, allowing us to have a window that extends almost floor to ceiling providing some natural light but not forcing us to contend with the harmful effects of direct sunlight. If you’ve ever worked in a room with no windows you know how nice it is to actually be able to look up and see what time of day it is, or check the weather. The fact that we have a bit of a view as well is truly the icing on the cake!
Veronica Sorcher (PLCH) —Conservation Technician