Through the Conservation Keyhole: IPM in the University Archives by Colin Vernall

                        Glasgow University Archive Services Searchroom

While Glasgow University Archive Services is generally a very welcoming environment for visitors, within our Preservation Unit we nevertheless try to discourage those who might potentially cause damage to our collections from coming here. If however these intruders do make it into our repositories, we try to pick up on their presence and make sure that their stay is a relatively short one.

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Pests under surveillance in an IPM

This of course refers to the various pests who sometimes make it into the controlled environment of archival repositories. As part of our IPM (Integrated Pest Management), a programme including an awareness of our environment, monitoring, cleaning and a generally high standard of housekeeping, our aim is to provide practical, safe and cost-effective methods to prevent archival collections being damaged by pests.

In the last year or so, the area around the University Archives in Dunaskin Street and Thurso Street, has been the site of a major demolition and, more recently the construction of a new building on the same site. This has given our Integrated Pest Management (IPM) an additional sense of vigilance, as old neighbours are disturbed and could potentially make their way into our own buildings.

Our Integrated Pest Management system is part of our professional practice, just like monitoring the temperature and relative humidity in our archival repositories, and maintaining appropriate levels of lighting.

In this sense, rather than reacting to problems, such as infestation when they have already occurred, our increased vigilance in response to changing environmental conditions in the surrounding area, is just an extension of an ongoing system of monitoring our collections for pests.
Besides an awareness of the nearby demolition and building work, other conditions can also cause fluctuations in temperature and increased relative humidity attracting insects.

Archive Services in Thurso Street and its changing surrroundings

Our collections comprise a wide variety of materials including many paper-based collections, textiles, different types of photographs and parchment.

Since, even at the height of summer, Glasgow is not known for its many continuous hours of sunshine, our climate, along with other factors specific to our immediate surroundings, necessitates close monitoring of pests. With the wrong environment, pests can make their way into buildings, feed, develop, and breed, causing damage to collections in the process. Therefore, archival repositories are climate controlled environments where a cooler temperature and low relative humidity discourage the presence and growth of many such pests.

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    Insect trap with pheromone tablet

An IPM system uses good housekeeping to keep pests out, traps to monitor the presence of bugs, and low temperatures to treat infestations. As can be seen from the image of the catch in a sticky pheromone trap below, some pests will make their way into the building, and once there the aim of IPM is to limit their numbers and most damaging effects. Placing sticky traps primed with pheromone tablets in a grid around the repository, helps check for pests, with pheromone tablets drawing specific insects such as clothes moths. However, these traps are a part of rather than a substitute for regular checking, providing an early warning of any increase in pest numbers. Traps are checked regularly, the catch recorded and then a report written describing the contents of each trap, with an accompanying photograph.

We are also fortunate to have a good cleaning service in the archive, enabling both prevention and upkeep, helping keep pollutants out of the area where archival materials are kept. Having to deal with infestation after it happens is upsetting, time consuming and difficult, and often means irreversible damage to collections. While we may be a little disgusted by our pesty wee neighbours, we can nevertheless learn to control them, so that they don’t control us!

Fortunately, despite constantly changing conditions, there has been no dramatic increase in pests in our archival repositories. However, as IPM is about regular monitoring and taking whatever preventative steps possible to avoid infestation, the monitoring continues as part of our best preservation practice.

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Categories: Archive Services, Library

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