Sustainable Storage Environments – A New Research Focus

Green Energy

The Image Permanence Institute applied for funding for three projects related to sustainability and the storage environment during the past several months. IPI's goal is to develop and disseminate sustainable preservation management strategies which achieve an optimal balance of preservation quality, energy cost reduction, and green practices. Many collecting institutions are searching for ways to responsibly lower energy consumption. It is inevitable that the cost of supplying a tightly controlled climate for collection storage—in terms of both financial and energy costs—will be under review. The staff in charge of the long-term care of collections needs to be prepared to make informed decisions based on current research, reliable data, and a factual understanding of the relationship between environment and material decay. They need specific guidelines and methods that allow them to understand and avoid potential risks to collections while taking advantage of opportunities for cost reductions and sustainability gains.

IPI developed two new research projects—one focused on AHU shutdowns and another on the impact of temperature and relative humidity setbacks. Based on this research, IPI will develop protocols that ensure that library, archives and museum collections are not harmed by short-term (evening and weekend) environmental fluctuations.  The third, an education and outreach project, is designed to get the word out about the latest research on managing the storage environment for both preservation and sustainability.

The first research project has received funding! The Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Program is providing $580,174 for a research project focused on shutdowns of air handling units during unoccupied hours in selected spaces. Working with five research library partners, we will investigate methods to reduce energy consumption and implement sustainable practices in the operation of library mechanical systems without incurring undue risks to collections. Web-based tools to facilitate the replication of the results in other libraries, the development of consulting expertise at IPI, and a publication reporting on the project and describing recommended practices are included. This project will begin in December 2009 and continue through November 2012.

An application was made to National Endowment for the Humanities Research and Development Grant program. This effort will investigate the impact of night and weekend setbacks in temperature and relative humidity settings, and develop the best methods to ensure that institutional collections are not harmed by short-term fluctuations made in the name of reducing energy costs and improving carbon footprints. Under the guidance of an advisory committee, project activities will include laboratory research, field experiment, data analysis and modeling, and creation of a field guide-style publication for sustainable HVAC operation in collection environments. If funded, the project will begin in May 2010 and continue for three years.

The National Endowment for the Humanities Education and Training Grant program is the venue for the third application. This project would allow IPI to convey the latest knowledge and techniques for managing the preservation environment in sustainable ways through a series of regional seminars and webinars. Directed at collection care and facility management staff in cultural institutions, this project will provide instruction and guidance based on the latest research and field practice. Presentations and related publications will enable participants to assess the preservation quality of their storage environments, understand the basics of HVAC operation, and identify opportunities for more efficient mechanical system operation.

These projects build on IPI's extensive work in accelerated aging, material deterioration, equilibration rates, and environmental data analysis. If funded, all project results will be made available to the field through our website and in various publications.