The Rare Books and Special Collections Library maintains its collections under storage and climate conditions in accordance with best practices worldwide. Books and archives are stored in temperature and humidity controlled spaces, with rare books and archival materials housed in secure storage rooms. Materials do not circulate outside the library, with the exception of some reserve items. In addition to the main reading room for the use of open-stack books, the library has spaces for researchers to consult rare materials with security guards and surveillance cameras present at all times.
To make materials ready for use by researchers, books are cataloged according to international standards. Archival documents receive specialized conservation treatment as needed (see below), and are arranged, housed in acid-free storage sleeves, folders, and containers, and described according to professional best practices.
The RBSCL's Conservation Laboratory, staffed by trained conservation specialists, is responsible for the conservation treatment and preservation of materials in all formats in the library's collections. Established in 1995 to repair books, the scope of the laboratory's activities has expanded to encompass a wide range of services including:
Preventive Conservation and Environmental Monitoring
The Conservation Laboratory monitors environmental conditions in the Library in order to ensure that appropriate temperatures and humidity levels are consistently maintained. Maintaining a temperature no higher than 20 degrees Celsius and relative humidity around 45 percent is essential for the preservation of the library's rare materials. Staff members conduct frequent surveys of stack areas and storage units to detect signs of mold or insect infestation.
Physical Conservation and Restoration
Laboratory staff members perform a wide range of conservation activities. Book repair includes rebinding and recasing with archival paper, cloth, and fine leathers, and consolidation of text blocks, as well as paper marbling for book endsheets. Staff members clean, deacidify, and mend book pages and archival documents using Japanese paper. Stain and mold removal are performed when necessary, and fragile items like architectural plans are encapsulated in polyester sleeves. The library has engaged in extensive photograph conservation work, including cleaning and the removal and replacement of backings for vintage prints. Custom-designed storage containers like sink-mats, phase boxes, and clam-shell boxes are also constructed to provide protection and support for rare and fragile items.
The Conservation Laboratory is responsible for the matting, framing and installation of items selected for exhibitions of RBSCL materials, both at the library and at venues off-campus and abroad. The Laboratory also undertakes matting for exhibitions at AUC's Photographic Gallery and other external venues.