Museums, Libraries, and Air Conditioning

Have you ever smelled a strange musty smell after walking into a library filled with old books? That may be the smell of decay. Over time, paper can fall apart under attack by fungus, mold, and chemical breakdown, not to mention insects and other destructive creatures. Many three-dimensional museum objects face the same or similar enemies. Letting these forces run loose destroys historical information and makes understanding the past much more difficult, so curators, librarians, and archivists do their best to stop them.

Enter the HVAC system (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), one of their first lines of defense. Not only do HVAC systems make life more pleasant for visitors and staff members, they also regulate temperature and humidity, retard the growth of harmful organisms and processes, and afford protection from brittleness. Thus, they slow down the rate of disintegration.

But they can do this only if they work properly. Unfortunately, many of the Museum’s HVAC units have long been out of their prime and subject to erratic behavior. Not long ago, one directly above the archives malfunctioned in the middle of a hot summer day. Somehow, the motor seized up, a block of ice formed, and as it melted water cascaded through a ceiling vent directly onto priceless historic records.

Hopefully, those days are gone. Recently, employees of San Joaquin County replaced six HVAC units that serve the Erickson Building, a county-owned building that serves as the Museum’s administrative center and houses not only its library but also a significant part of its artifact collection. As an added bonus, the new units also promise to be more durable than their replacements and to shrink energy bills due to enhanced efficiency.

This eagerly awaited update has taken place thanks to a federal grant, and members of the Museum staff couldn’t be more pleased or grateful.

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