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.



Illinois Digital Newspaper Collection: Crowd-Sourced OCR Correction

Written by William Schlaack, Digital Reformatting Coordinator

Looking for something to do that incorporates reading primary sources, exploring historical events, and expanding access to Library materials? Then head on over to the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections (IDNC) and try your hand at text-correction! All that is required is a free user account and a keen eye.

While always growing IDNC currently provides free access to 158,430 issues from 146 newspapers from across the country. During the digitization process, newspapers are scanned using a special software featuring Optical Character Recognition (OCR). OCR software recognizes the shape of images and assigns alphabetical values to them. Due to the mass, automated nature of this process certain fonts, charts, and images are output incorrectly, resulting in garbled text that is not useful for keyword searching. Text correction thus improves the accuracy of keyword searches and helps researchers like you.

Before user text correction
During user text correction.
After user text correction.

For detailed instructions click here. If you have any questions feel free to email – thank you!

Preservation Week 2020

Preservation Week 2020 | April 26 – May 2, 2020

We celebrate preservation every day in Preservation Services at the University of Illinois, which is why we get so excited when National Preservation Week rolls around! This year, between April 26th and May 2nd, the American Library Association is celebrating its 10th annual recognition of  Preservation Week. This week is dedicated to advocating for the care of cultural heritage materials in our communities and collecting institutions. Typically, the week consists of various preservation-themed events for communities, galleries, libraries, archives, and museums. The official ALA Preservation Week theme this year is “Preserving Oral History,” although the week also serves as an opportunity to spread awareness of all forms of preservation.

Preservation: What is it?

Preservation is the act of caring for cultural heritage to ensure its wellbeing and longevity. Preservation is necessary because collections in libraries, museums, or even your attic will gradually deteriorate over time. Eventually, our material heritage will no longer exist; preservation seeks to slow the process by which materials degenerate so that we may access, appreciate, and learn from them for as long as possible.

Some causes of deterioration include:

  • The Environment: Light exposure, Temperature, Humidity
  • Direct Physical Forces
  • Disasters: Fire & Water
  • Pests
  • Contaminants
  • Inherent Vice, or an innate quality of the object that predisposes it to deterioration e.g. cellulose nitrate film base or acidic iron gall ink

For many years, collections care was done reactively instead of proactively, and most action to conserve collections was allocated to the most precious collection items. Now, preservation specialists practice preventive care of collections and they don’t limit the prevention of damage to the most expensive or rare items. The field of preservation has developed slowly, and still, only recently has the importance of preserving items in our memory institutions gained public awareness.

In 2005, Heritage Preservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services conducted a comprehensive national survey of the condition of the nation’s collections. This study had a huge impact on the field as it brought about an awareness of how many items were at risk (approximately 4.8 billion) and spurred action to care for these items. Then, in 2014, the study was repeated, and the number of collections reportedly held by memory institutions had grown to over 14 billion, not including 30.7 million cubic feet and 32.6 million linear feet of unbound materials, and over 387 TB of digital information. The study concluded that “preservation is part of the mission for a vast majority of U.S. collecting institutions. Yet many, especially small institutions, have not yet prepared for emergencies and have faced challenges in many actions related to preservation, including conservation practices with digital content.”

These surveys revealed the need for improved environmental storage conditions, increased emergency planning and disaster response training, and at least one staff member to have preservation training in collecting institutions. The Association for Library Collections and Technical Services (ALCTS) a division of ALA, began Preservation Week in 2010 in tandem with the growing awareness and concern for at-risk items in cultural heritage collections. Preservation week continues to be a great opportunity for library, archives, and museum professionals to connect with communities about their collections, to provide advice and information about preservation, and to provide an opportunity to highlight an institution’s work in preservation.

“Some 630 million items in collecting institutions require immediate attention and care. Eighty percent of these institutions have no paid staff assigned responsibility for collections care; 22 percent have no collections care personnel at all. Some 2.6 billion items are not protected by an emergency plan. As natural disasters of recent years have taught us, these resources are in jeopardy should a disaster strike. Personal, family, and community collections are equally at risk.” – official ALA statement on the importance of preservation week

Preservation at the University of Illinois

Preservation at Illinois began as early as 1934 when the Mending Division was established as a part of a Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) grant as a Division of the Binding Department. In the sixties, the division was renamed to ‘Binding, Marking, and Conservation,’ but by 1986, the division was split – Binding and Marking shifted to the Acquisitions Unit, and the Conservation Unit reported to the Preservation Librarian. Today, the Conservation Unit still reports to the Preservation Librarian, and both the Preservation and Conservation Units are a part of the Technical Services Division. For a more in-depth history of Preservation and Conservation at the University of Illinois, check out our history, here.

“The Preservation Services Unit exists to provide long-term access to the physical and intellectual contents of the Library’s collections through conservation, preservation, and digitization. These programs seek to provide this access with an eye toward maximizing the Library’s investment in collections, services, and staff while continually seeking to improve the services that we provide.” – Mission of the University of Illinois Preservation Services

Preservation Services at Illinois will be hosting online webinars, online exhibits, virtual posters, and more for Preservation Week!


Other Preservation Week Resources:


Costain, C. 1994. “Framework for the preservation of museum collections” Canadian Conservation Institute Newsletter 14:1

Heritage Preservation. The Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America’s Collections. Heritage Preservation, Washington DC, 2005.

Institute of Museum and Library Services. Protecting America’s Collections: Results from the Heritage Health Information Survey. Washington, DC., 2019.

Preservation, Conservation, and Digitization Services. A Brief History. Accessed at