When your existing library or archive space no longer meets the requirements of the information service, or fails to meet the recommended conditions as set out by BS 4971:2017, it may be time to research new options for storing your collections. One of the first things to consider when changing the repository for storing your organisation’s archive material is whether to refurbish and adapt your existing space, or build an entirely new one. Obviously there will be budgetary and temporal influences on such a decision, but let’s consider this in terms of preservation and physical storage limitations. Here are a five key questions to consider when choosing how to better accommodate a library or special collection and decide: new or refurbished archive?
Where special collections are concerned, are these all paper collections, or do they also contain photographs and audio-visual media? Different materials, especially older (colour) photographic and audio or video formats may need special storage conditions which differ from the basic standard for paper collections (for example, lower temperatures). This could be a lower temperature or relative humidity, or special packaging or shelving. Does the current space have the floor space necessary to accommodate a separate storage area with different conditions? And if the collection is likely to expand, is there sufficent space to allow for future growth?
Who will need to access the refurbished archive and how often?
This may determine how much space you need, and what kind of archive shelving you use. For example, if most of the material is closed access, rolling stacks could be employed to maximise space. This could influence whether the material needs to be stored on-site, or whether it could be housed in a purpose-built off-site store, which may not necessarily need to be in the existing location. An off-site newbuild allows for more flexibility in design.
How much can be done to the existing space, and is it a building of historical importance?
If the library or archive is located in a historical building, there may be limitations on what changes can be made and how the space can be improved to meet the necessary standards. Refurbishment may be the only option. With the refurbishment of an existing space however, it may not be possible to improve the conditions in order to protect against environmental and human threats.
For example, the refurbishment of the St John’s College archive to meet BS 4971:2017 was a challenging undertaking due to the significant and historic nature of the existing structure. In conjunction with specialist conservation architects Caroe, Bruynzeel Storage Systems supplied mobile shelving with perforated end panels to maximise air circulation in the refurbished archive, as well as picture racking. In both cases, the listed wooden floor was removed before work began, and the floor carefully relaid around the countersunk rails following installation.
Can your collection be moved easily?
Whether refurbishing or using a new space, collections will need to be moved, either into a new permanent space, or a temporary interim space. This in itself will involve a great deal of planning, as stock moves require accurate scheduling and close supervision. It may be easier to just move the collections once, into a newly built space, depending on what interim storage is available, the robustness of the collection, and how service provision might be affected.
How important is sustainability?
With BS 4971:2017’s emphasis on “low energy solutions for long-term sustainable storage”, it is not only the conditions inside the archive store that could affect a decision on whether to refurb or build from scratch. The new Herefordshire Archives and Records Centre, which opened in January 2015, is the first archive in the UK to be built to conform to the Passivhaus standard. Passivhaus is an energy performance standard which originated in Germany for domestic dwellings, but can also be applied to commercial, industrial and public buildings. The new Hereford archive represents the most ambitious attempt at energy conservation in an archive building in the UK. However, refurbishing existing buildings to meet such rigorous standards is not always viable or desirable.
Ultimately, it may be easier to build a new, purpose-built storage space, which can provide the most appropriate conditions for all materials. However, budgetary, historical, and political reasons may mean that this is not an option. Working with existing space may involve more sacrifices, particularly where preservation is concerned – but even a small improvement to an archive storage space can make a big difference to the ‘shelf life’ of a collection item.
British Standards Institution, BS 4971:2017 BSI Standards Publication – Conservation and care of archive and library collections