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IU’s state-of-the-art Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility protects university treasures

Apr 3, 2018

Just north of the IU Bloomington campus is a repository with an interior that rivals something out of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” But instead of finding the Ark of the Covenant, visitors to Indiana University’s Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility discover treasures in the form of books, films, art and historical artifacts being preserved and protected by the university. 

Bookshelves at the ALF
Bookshelves in the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility soar to heights of 32 feet and have the capacity for more than 6 million books.Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

This building – which now boasts the nickname “the ALF” – was constructed in 2002 to relieve the libraries from overcrowding, allow for continued acquisition and make way for community-building spaces. The excellent care it provided to the university’s book collections prompted a building addition opened in 2010 that provides space for storing additional types of collections, like the nearly 120,000 films in the IU Libraries’ Moving Image Archive. Now, one more addition to the ALF campus near the intersection of 10th Street and the 45/46 Bypass is set to open in 2018, accommodating storage and preservation of more film, textiles, art and other objects.

“Many of the collections designated for ALF 3 are jewels of the Indiana University system that are critical to research and deserving of appropriate stewardship,” said Rick Van Kooten, IU Bloomington vice provost for research.

To plan for the latest ALF addition, Van Kooten oversaw the initial inventory of more than 50 special collections across the Bloomington campus and helped determine their allocation to the facility. These collections include art from the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art, artifacts from the Kinsey Institute and items from IU units like the Archives of Traditional Music, the Archives of African American Music and Culture, the Black Film Center/Archives and the Sage Historic Costume Collection. The new facilities will create the necessary conservation environments for long-term preservation of IU’s treasures.

Features include three separate floors maintained at optimal temperature and humidity conditions, movable shelves, hooks for hanging art and closets for storing garments. Researchers will be able to access artifacts in one of three secure study rooms in the ALF or may choose to have objects delivered to locations on campus. The state-of-the-art features in the addition are a continuation of the care taken at the existing ALF facility.

Head of ALF Services Vaughn Nuest
Elise Calvi at the ALF

Photos by James Brosher, IU Communications

Bookshelves in the original facility soar to heights of 32 feet and have the capacity for more than 6 million books. Collections are stored in acid-free, lignin-free, pH-balanced boxes and organized by size, a more space-efficient arrangement than traditional shelving systems. The temperature is kept at a constant 50 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 percent relative humidity, ideal conditions for the preservation of books. A variation of even one degree will set off a building-wide alarm.

When planning to build the original facility, architects, engineers and library staff studied book storage facilities around the country. Some had experienced collapsed shelving due to even small variations of floor levels, so a “super-flat” floor was specified. A crowned roof prevents snow, ice and water from accumulating and causing a cave-in, and seismic bracing protects the collections from earthquake damage. Five security systems are deployed in the facility along with a fire suppression system that triggers sprinklers and the dropping of doors to limit both water and fire damage.

Access has always been a priority for the ALF staff as well. Each of the 3.9 million books stored in the ALF are found in IU Libraries’ catalog system, IUCAT. ALF staff fill requests six days a week and deliver to 19 locations across campus. Many requests are delivered the same day they are made.

“We fill about 200 requests for books each day we are in operation,” said Vaughn Nuest, head of ALF Services. “We do our best to make sure housing these books in an off-site location doesn’t hinder their accessibility.”

The nature of each book determines how it can be used, whether it can be removed from the library to which it was delivered or must be viewed in a reading room, and whether the handler must wear gloves or take some other precautions. Luckily, book and paper preservation experts who are part of the E. Lingle Craig Preservation Lab are onsite at the ALF to assess book conditions, make repairs and protect pages.

Glenn Close's costume from ’101 Dalmatians'
Collections like IU’s Sage Historic Costume Collection, which includes costumes recently donated by actress Glenn Close, will be housed in the new addition to the ALF. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications
Film at the ALF
The expansion of the ALF will include an entire floor dedicated to the storage of film. The floor’s temperature will be kept at a cool 38 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal condition for celluloid film. Photo by James Brosher, IU Communications

Book preservationists like Elise Calvi apply conservation treatments, repair bindings and pages, make new enclosures and sleeves, and prepare materials for exhibition or digitization. The lab is not, however, in the business of making items look as they did when they were new.

“We aren’t trying to repair the history out of these books,” Calvi said. ”Rather, we consider the value they may have for users and apply the appropriate treatment approach. The life history of older books or unique materials may be important to researchers, so for those, the goal is to stabilize while changing as little as possible.”

The construction of the third ALF addition and the efforts of the current staff fulfill the priority set forward by IU President Michael A. McRobbie in his 2017 State of the University address to ensure that all the university’s collections are properly housed, maintained and curated.

Nuest said the ALF expansion will ensure that more types of collections are housed in optimal physical environments, making them useful for many generations to come.

“If we do our jobs correctly during our era of ALF stewardship, we will have preserved the collections in our care that have been gathered and acquired over the history of our university,” he said. “We can confidently hand them over to the next generation for their turn in caring for them and providing access.”


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