From Gray Areas to Green Areas


From Gray Areas to Green Areas:
Developing Sustainable Practices in Preservation Environments
Symposium Proceedings

  proceedings (18K)

Karen L. Pavelka and Snowden Becker

Conservators' work is fundamentally about balance: The balance of costs and benefits, reversible techniques and lasting treatments, proven methods and experimental materials. Conservators also make constant refinements in our practice. We test our assumptions and revise our methods as needed to achieve the goal of long-term preservation for the valuable things in our care. This symposium arose from many conversations, fueled by coffee and wine, among conservators, archivists, librarians, engineers, and administrators who saw the need to examine our work in a larger context, and test larger questions of balance in what we do.

A fundamental assumption made in the preservation community is that achieving the right balance of temperature and relative humidity is the best strategy to prolong the life of collection materials. The chemistry behind that statement may be quite accurate, but it requires that we balance more than just degrees and percentages. If our tightly controlled HVAC systems contribute to global warming, do we come out ahead? Does it make sense to apply these standards to every climate and economy? When reliance on fossil fuels is an increasingly costly prospect, how much are we gaining and how can we measure the cost of extended life for collections? If we elect to use "green" building techniques and materials, what are their effects on the collections? Are we really being ethical stewards of the cultural heritage if we think locally, or only react instead of anticipating and effecting positive change?

We were driven to examine how sustainable practices could be balanced with preservation concerns in the broadest context. The biggest challenge we faced as a planning committee was to find speakers for a field of study that did not really exist. Sustainable preservation lives in the "gray area" of our symposium title, at the intersection of a cloud of concepts and fields of study: cultural stewardship, green building design and institutional architecture, engineering and psychometrics, public policy, research methodologies, waste disposal, energy efficiency and consumption, ethics and humanitarianism, institutional priorities and commitments, and more. Despite these overlapping boundaries, when we contacted potential speakers we received many hearty responses affirming that, yes, this was an important challenge. Eventually, we convinced a small but enthusiastic group to pick up that challenge.

The November symposium represents the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing dialogue among a diverse group of professionals. These published talks represent just some of the issues that were raised. The group discussions generated a wealth of additional ideas, and reminded us that the energy and enthusiasm of our community are abundant renewable resources. There is far more to be said about the subjects we were able to cover, and topics we have yet to address, such as the challenge of increased electronic waste from the management of born-digital heritage materials, how to ensure that green initiatives have support at the highest institutional levels, and building the idea of sustainability into professional education and everyday practice.

We are especially grateful to Craig Blaha, Melissa Huber and Sarah Kim, each of whom brought different but necessary strengths to this endeavor, and to all of the speakers who joined us in addressing the delicate balance of sustainability and preservation practice.

From Gray Areas to Green Areas: Developing Sustainable Practices in Preservation Environments, 2007, Symposium Proceedings, edited by Melissa Tedone
Copyright © 2008 The Kilgarlin Center for Preservation of the Cultural Record, School of Information, the University of Texas at Austin. All rights reserved.


Table of Contents

What Will the Cultural Record Say About Us? The stewardship of culture and the mandate for environmental sustainability
Michael C. Henry
Going Green in Museums: A Conservator's View
Paul Himmelstein and Barbara Appelbaum
From Japanese Tradition: Is /Kura/ a Model for a Sustainable Preservation Environment?
Kazuko Hioki
Sustainability Means Less is More
Joachim Huber
Providing Safe and Practical Environments for Cultural Property in Historic Buildings...and Beyond
Richard L. Kerschner
Sustainable Practices for Conservation Environments
William P. Lull
Real and Relevant Green Building
Peter L. Pfeiffer
Specifying Storage Environments in Libraries and Archives
James Reilly
Pennsylvania's Rare Collections Library: Design Overview
Cornelius J. Rusnov
From Institutional Mission to Sustainable Outcome:Cultivating Stewardship Through the Planning and Design Process
Laurie Zapalac
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