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UI Libraries Want to Save History

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IOWA CITY - The University of Iowa is planning to spend millions of dollars to protect library books. But spending money could be the easy part. The university wants to spend up to $10 million on an archival facility. Keeping one million items in the best condition possible will take some real planning.

Staff at the University of Iowa libraries says every couple of months something seems to get wet. It is usually books that need to quickly get into the freezer for repair. Preservationist Gary Frost said, "Moist books, wet books, edge-wet books will mold within 72 hours."

Freezing books takes time away from other important projects, so the university wants to build an archival facility. It is basically a warehouse. It will hold one million items that are not regularly used. But a simple warehouse simply won't do. Director of preservation Nancy Kraft said, "The considerations for the collections are more important than the people."

Those considerations include needing a climate-controlled truck to deliver books, maps, movies, and anything else tangible to the archive building. And if you need something you cannot walk up and down the aisles like at the library. Everything will be boxed and on shelves which stretch 35 feet high. And there is the temperature. The freezer fixes books, so the building needs to be cold. Kraft said, "The temperature will be around 50 degrees. Again, not for people, but for collection comfort."

The archive facility also needs to be built somewhere safe, away from flood planes for example. A sight still needs to be determined. Once land is chosen, it construction could take another 18 to 24 months. Then getting everything into the building could take up to 10 years.

Email Steve Nicoles at

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