New facility will preserve irreplaceable library resources

The new 38,160 square foot library collections preservation facility will nearly quadruple the amount of shelving space available at an existing location in Verona. UW Libraries

UW-Madison secured funding for a $33 million state-of-the-art shelving facility that provides the environmental controls needed to preserve its library collections.

The facility, featuring preservation-level environmental conditions, will be the first for UW-Madison. It will expand current shelving space that is approaching capacity and allow UW-Madison Libraries to house some of the state’s most critical research materials that are part of its rare and distinctive collections. Relocating these resources will also free up space for more modern teaching, learning and research spaces on campus.

“UW Libraries’ collections include thousands of irreplaceable books, manuscripts and media that are invaluable resources for scholars in the UW system and beyond,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “As custodians of these precious collections, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are properly cared for and preserved so that they can be studied and treasured for generations to come.”

The project will be funded by one-time funds approved by the Vice-Chancellor for Finance and Administration. Tuition fees or state general purpose revenue are not used to fund the building project.

Close-up of a person's fingers holding a crumpled, yellowed piece of film from a film reel

“We have aging and at-risk materials that we’re going to lose if we can’t afford to maintain and preserve them properly,” says Special Collections Director David Pavelich. Courtesy of ProTek

The new 38,160 square foot library collections preservation facility, identified as a strategic priority by the campus, will nearly quadruple the amount of shelving space available at an existing location in Verona – a 10,000 square foot facility in the adjacent building of materials distribution services to surplus with a purpose (SWAP). In general, current library facilities, which hold collections worth more than $2.4 billion, lack appropriate environmental controls to meet standards for preserving at-risk collections of film, audio tape, music, and music. art and paper-based acid materials.

“We have aging and at-risk materials that we’re going to lose if we don’t have a way to maintain and store them properly,” says David Pavelich, Director of Special Collections and Acting Director of Collections. “In university archives, for example, you can sense the so-called ‘vinegar syndrome’ of decaying film, which needs to be kept cold to stabilize. The 2018 Library Master Plan shows multiple issues with our mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, leaving unique and rare collections vulnerable to adverse conditions. We must have a custodial quality facility where we can store these materials and keep them safe, and from which we can provide responsive service to our users.

Long-term access to rare special collections and fragile materials requires conditions where temperature and humidity are controlled, as well as appropriate fire protection and modern security technology. Verona’s current offsite shelving facility is reaching capacity and lacks the environmental controls required by the most unique and deteriorated items in the collection, says Lisa Carter, vice provost for libraries and university librarian.

“Libraries are responsible for the stewardship of the tremendous research collections we are blessed with at UW-Madison,” Carter says. “Our collections are used by and inspire researchers from all disciplines and around the world. The ability to protect and maintain long-term access to these rich resources and the ability to grow these collections is not only in the best interests of UW-Madison. It’s the materials of the state, used by people in Wisconsin and around the world, that help us keep the concept of the Wisconsin Idea in practice.

About a dozen old books with worn bindings on a shelf

UW Libraries’ collections include thousands of irreplaceable books, manuscripts and media. UW Libraries

It will take at least three years from now for the facility to be built and operational. Groundbreaking is scheduled for late 2023. In the meantime, library leadership is committed to engaging in ongoing, broad-based discussions with faculty and other campus partners to help assess which materials are best preserved in the new facility. As the project gets underway, the libraries will continue to update the campus community on progress. Once in operation, libraries will share the impacts and benefits of the facility on the overall library agenda for managing collections and using spaces to enhance the academic experience of our university community.

“Our growing collections require efficient use of buildings and appropriate facilities to care for materials. The spaces in which we manage the library resources upon which UW-Madison research is based are, for all intents and purposes, full and deteriorating due to age,” said the Vice Chancellor of Finance and administration, Robert Cramer. “As we envision the future of our libraries, we must have a solution to address these challenges and allow us to reimagine other uses for spaces on campus.”

The Library Collections Preservation Facility will also help address ongoing space issues on campus. It will free up prime space for multipurpose uses such as active learning environments and spaces to facilitate interdisciplinary research and scientific collaboration using emerging technologies. LCPF can provide temporary space during library renovations, providing opportunities to improve spaces, enhance academic experiences, and strengthen partnerships.

“We recognize and appreciate that our users represent a wide range of disciplines and interests, with different approaches to how they use library collections and resources,” says Carter. “We aim to maximize access to our collections, invest in the infrastructure necessary to manage our valuable collections responsibly, and provide spaces that meet the research and study needs of users.”

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