The Optimization Project (1997-2000)

The Mellon Foundation provided funding to IPI for Optimizing Collection Life in Cultural Institutions, a project designed to field test the PEM and Climate Notebook along with IPI’s preservation management approaches. IPI worked intensively with research partners at the New York Public Library and the Library of Congress through 2005, using these tools to assess collection storage conditions and to study the nature and performance of mechanical systems. The goal was to improve collections preservation by quantifying the effects of environment, investigating mechanical system capabilities, and taking action to optimize preservation quality.

During the project IPI continued to extract meaning from temperature and RH data, and to improve the Climate Notebook software accordingly. An important result of the project was the development of a balanced overview of the three major forms of collection deterioration: chemical, biological, and physical. IPI had already developed the first Preservation Metric (TWPI) for chemical decay in organic materials, which was critical to library preservation. Next to develop were metrics for mold risk and physical or mechanical decay (dryness or dampness leading to cracks, warps, tears, etc.). IPI’s Preservation Metrics offer an important change in the way institutions manage the environment for preservation. Use of these metrics allows preservation staff to be much more confident that deterioration risks have been identified and their severity properly quantified.

Other elements of the optimization approach included an understanding of the outdoor climate and the role that the building and its mechanical systems play in shaping the environment that collections are experiencing. The optimization approach to analyzing mechanical systems involved the development of a holistic view of system capabilities and an orientation toward making existing systems function as well as they can.

Through the course of the optimization process, research and analysis led to the conclusion that the limiting factor for achieving a satisfactory rate of chemical change is the summertime dew point. The key to improving the rate of chemical decay was reliant on the ability of mechanical systems to maintain simultaneously cool and dry conditions during the summer—which can be achieved only by keeping dewpoint temperatures low. The threat of mold is also greatest during periods of high relative humidity. Mechanical systems need to keep RH under 60% to avoid biological decay due to mold and mildew growth.

The risk of mechanical damage is primarily related to winter dryness, which can result in acute shrinkage during very dry periods. Mechanical damage also results from dimensional change due to cycling through wide changes in relative humidity summer to winter. For collections that are susceptible to physical damage, managing winter RH levels is critical. This can be done either by humidification or by lowering the temperature (which raises the RH).



IPI can work with your organization to develop an Environmental Monitoring and Analysis project that fits your needs, from designing an environmental management program, purchasing monitoring equipment, evaluating HVAC design plans, review of existing mechanical systems, energy saving opportunities, risk analysis, and more.

Contact Patricia Ford to discuss your needs: