A grant awarded to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library will help evaluate the environmental conditions of where the collections are housed.
The Kenneth Spencer Research Library has been awarded a $50,000 National Endowment for the Humanities Sustaining Cultural Heritage Collections grant to help analyze sustainable ways to improve the ventilation system.
Whitney Baker, project director of the grant and head of conservation services, said the project will identify the best ways to make the current heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system more energy efficient.
“The purpose of this grant is to bring in an environmental consultant who can help us try to sustain our collections in here,” she said.
The HVAC unit is the same unit the library had when it opened in 1968. The consultant will come three times over 18 months and gather data on temperature and humidity, two elements important in the conservation of the library’s collections.
Usually, the collections preserve better under low temperatures and humidity. However, with the current HVAC system, the heat runs all the time, even during the summer, Baker said.
Unlike other buildings on campus, the Spencer library system is single-zoned, meaning the same temperature reaches to all spaces in the library, including the collections and people areas, Baker said.
Baker said it's a challenge because they need to keep a temperature that will benefit both the collections and people who work and use the library.
“We control the humidity so it doesn’t go really high up in the summer and really low down in the winter; the research has shown that that’s the best way to preserve paper long term,” she said. “Most of our collections would do better with lower temperature and humidity, but we can’t have that.”
Kevin L. Smith, dean of the libraries, said the conservation of the collections is an important goal for the libraries.
“Such preservation work is a vital part of our ability to offer students, faculty and visiting scholars access to unique or rare resources for scholarship,” he said.
The collections at Spencer Research Library include medieval and ancient manuscripts, special collections in the history of science and education, and the Kansas collections—which include primary sources materials that document the history of Kansas. The library also holds the University collection (documents of the history of the University) and other items.
The library is primarily used by graduate students and faculty, which is why Baker said they are constantly trying to reach out to undergraduate students.
“We want everyone to come and enjoy,” she said. “It’s great when students are exposed to the originals of things, especially in this digital world.”
For Baker, she is excited for the cooperation that will happen with this grant by bringing together librarians, facilities, people, and consultants to try to gather data and come up with sustainable options to preserve the collections.
“It’s good to have someone coming thinking about the research behind this so we can do the best we can and preserve our materials here,” she said.
Smith said this project will allow the materials to remain available for the University community for a long time.
“We have many programs designed to encourage teaching and study of these materials, and the success of all those programs depend on our ongoing preservation efforts,” he said.
— Edited by Wesley Dotson