Interview with Carl Stewart

Carl StewartCarl works as the University Libraries Preservation Department General Professional III for Facilities Assessment and Emergency Planning at the University of Colorado—Boulder.

He has worked in the Preservation Department at the University of Colorado—Boulder for 17 years.  For ten years, he was in charge of the Brittle Books program. "Ten years with brittle books is long enough," he jokes, "and the department head, Pat Morris, new at the time, restructured my job so that I became the 'facilities guy' which included conducting surveys of all our facilities and doing environmental monitoring." Carl also does emergency planning and response and some regional outreach. 

Before working in the CU Library, Carl studied art, languages (at one point he could call himself quadri-lingual) and some library science.  His academic degrees are in Art History (BA-American University in Paris); Ceramics (BFA-Kansas City Art Institute) and Sculpture (MFA--Montana State). The years of study were interspersed with years of work in libraries, art galleries, a landscape architect’s office in Manhattan, and many pottery studios.

Carl Thurston Stewart

Where were you born?
Boulder, CO

What was your professional training?
Most of my initial training was on-the-job with lots of workshops in preservation topics.  A key step was a certificate program with the Preservation Management Institute (2003) at Rutgers with Evelyn Frangakis, funded by a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) scholarship. 

What was your very first job?
After pulling weeds and picking up rocks in my parents' garden as a kid, I was a newspaper boy.

What would your dream job be?
Gotta admit that I have it—if only I didn't have to work 40 hours a week or sleep 7 hours a day so I had more time to play in the pottery studio...but I love the academic mission and I work on a beautiful campus.

How did your partnership with IPI begin?
We were kind of slow to formally partner with IPI. I guess we needed to pay our dues with Hobo and Pinnacle monitors; .dft, .bmp, csv, .txt and Excel files and charts. While we had used Climate Notebook, our partnership with IPI really began when Pat Morris applied for the WebERA project.

What was your involvement in WebERA and what did you think of the project?
We were one of the dozen or so institutions chosen to beta test the web-based system. What do I think of the project? You wouldn’t be interviewing me if you didn’t know that I am a big fan of it. Two main things that this project did for me: file management and collaboration. While I had become pretty good at file management with all my different types of files and learning the hard way about the importance of consistent and clear naming strategies, WebERA systematized this file management in a graphical way. It gives me a single location for all my environmental information. Perhaps more importantly, just when WebERA came along, we had decided to try to get all of our campus collecting institutions to collaborate around preservation issues such as emergency planning, conservation and storage issues. This way we could speak with a stronger voice to the "powers that be." WebERA was the perfect project to jumpstart this collaboration. We now not only have 17 active monitor locations in the libraries, but have brought together 14 more monitoring locations from campus museums and archives to the WebERA website. All of this is viewable by collections managers around campus. Even our campus facilities department has expressed interest in using this system for the "trending application" (representation of past HVAC performance) which is better than what they have now.

Why does the preservation of museum and library collections matter to you?
Art and visual objects can affect me deeply, in a personal way. Production of art and the expression of ideas and information through writing is an essential part of our humanity. To preserve this is to preserve our humanity. My father was an anthropologist and that upbringing gave me a particular appreciation for material culture.

What is your favorite work of art or your favorite artist?
Right this minute, it is a poem on the back of a 1970's newspaper article I am helping to preserve—I hope I see the poem again sometime.

What other hobbies or significant interests do you have?
I'm the clay-maker and a potter at the Boulder Potters Guild. (Note the lack of niggling environmental considerations for the storage of ceramics...)

What book (or books) would you take with you to a desert island?
My sketchbook and some glue, and some big book of poetry.

What is your most treasured possession?
A confused mind with occasional inspired clarity.

What is your greatest indulgence? many sins...but the boss might read this...can’t decide if it is the strong coffee with half and half in the morning or those two beers at night—or all those other things in between.

What was the most surprising thing to you about IPI?
When I visited for a workshop, I wasn't expecting to hear interesting expressions of "why we are preserving this material" only "how to" preserve it. I’m glad we were reminded eloquently of the reasons why we are doing all this work. And I am interested to hear what IPI finds as its research into the ways that our HVAC systems can work better to both preserve the materials—and the planet—with their next IMLS grant.