Preventive Preservation: The Importance of Environmental Monitoring and Integrated Pest Management in Maintaining Library Collections

Written by Anne Carney and KayCie Voigt

What is environmental monitoring and how is it practiced?

Environmental monitoring is a set of practices that seek to make library staff aware of and strive for the ideal environmental conditions to protect collections. This is practiced through a variety of methods, all centered on the idea of preventive preservation. Preventive preservation is a set of regularly practiced activities that help to ensure long term collection safety. These practices seek to prevent damage to collections before it happens by creating ideal storage conditions and monitoring of the library spaces to catch any issues as soon as possible.

Environmental monitoring largely consists of a few key practices which can yield a much better understanding of both collection and public spaces. One of the most important aspects is monitoring the temperature and relative humidity of your library space. This can be done with a variety of different readers.  What is most important is consistent records of the temperature and humidity of the space. Programs like eClimate Notebook from the Image Permanence Institute allows users to upload digital datalogger readings and generate graphs for temperature and relative humidity. This information can be helpful when making decisions about collection storage and maintenance. High relative humidity can cause serious damage to collections and encourage the growth of mold, which is both dangerous to collections and human health. While not all collections need tight control over humidity and temperature knowing the normal boundaries of your collection can help quickly indicate issues with the HVAC system and the building, helping to protect collections in the long run. Establishing the baseline of normal temperature and humidity fluctuations for your library takes a bit of time, but it can best help prevent many large scale preservation issues. Finally, one of the most important aspects of practicing environmental monitoring is good channels of communication between facilities, departmental and preservation staff. A clear understanding of the roles that each set of staff have in the overall health of the building and collections is key to preventive preservation of the collections housed in the library.

What are the benefits?

Environmental monitoring can offer a great deal of benefits to the library and the collections. The most direct benefits are the protection and retention of your collection. Keeping stable library conditions is one of the best ways to protect the collection long term. Doing so cuts down on replacement costs and conservation and preservation treatment because of embrittlement or mold related issues. Another advantage to performing environmental monitoring is that it encourages a better understanding of the collection, patrons and library building. A holistic understanding of how these factors impact the health of the collection through regular monitoring can lead to better decision making for collection changes both short and long term. Many of the tools used for environmental monitoring can also be eco-friendly alternatives to consistent spraying of pesticides or inefficient heating and cooling of collection areas.

How it’s done at UIUC

In the preservation department at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, many of the environmental monitoring practices explored above are put into use to ensure the long term safety and health of collections. Monitoring temperature, relative humidity, and integrated pest management are key to the practice at UIUC. The individual units work in concert with the Collections Care section of the Preservation department in order to coordinate collection of data on a monthly basis. This data is collected and reports are made in order to better understand trends. An additional source of monitoring comes through regular maintenance and monitoring of the library’s HVAC systems. These systems help to ensure consistent temperature and relative humidity ranges throughout library buildings. To ensure that this monitoring takes place, the collaboration between preservation, facilities and the individual library units is vital. Environmental monitoring is a relatively simple set of practices that can mean a world of difference for the health of your collection.

Integrated Pest Management

Another one of the ways the environment is monitored in libraries is through Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The presence of pests in library collections can cause serious damage to materials. The starch, cellulose, and proteins found in library materials provide food for certain pests. IPM in libraries is both a form of pest control and a preservation process. It provides an eco-friendly approach to handling pest activity by avoiding the use of potentially harmful chemicals in the building. One of the most important IPM tasks performed in libraries is the monitoring of the interior space for pest activity. At the University of Illinois libraries, pest activity is monitored through the use of glue traps.

These glue traps are placed in strategic locations throughout the library. Traps are most effective when they are placed near drains and water sources; near building entry point like windows, doors, and vents; in areas where food is present; and on floors below ground level. Traps should also be placed along baseboards and window edges.

Once a month the old traps are collected and inspected, and new traps are set. Data is gathered about the number and types of bugs in each trap. Each month of data is compared to previous months to see if there was a change in the amount or type of pest activity. At the end of the year, all of the monthly data is gathered together to create annual reports. These annual reports are then used to generate multiple year reports that are helpful in understanding trends of pest activity within the library. Through monitoring the library spaces we can keep track of the number and type of insects. Properly identifying the pests caught in traps is necessary to determine if they pose an immediate and direct threat to collections. When certain pests make their way into library materials, damage to the books, as demonstrated in the images below, can occur. As you can see in these images, the damage caused by pests is extensive and may have been prevented through proper monitoring.

Other IPM actions taken at the University of Illinois Library include limiting the areas where food can be consumed and where it can be discarded. Garbage cans should be labeled to ensure that the waste that is most attractive to pests is disposed of in the proper place so it can be dealt with in a timely manner.

Overall, environmental monitoring and integrated pest management allow the library to not only be aware of the conditions of the materials and try to ensure longevity of those materials, but also enable the library to think about the best ways to utilize time and effort to create the best space for materials, staff, and patrons.