Building Archive Storage from the Dirt Up

by Megan Atkinson

Tennessee Tech University Archives and Special Collections would like to showcase its new storage facility located on the first floor of the Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library.  The facility’s construction was funded by the Tennessee Tech Foundation, Friends of the Volpe Library, and the Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library Support Endowment.

Tennessee Tech Archives houses over 2,500 cubic feet of materials and is constantly growing, taking in more physical records and their electronic equivalents every week.  Housing archival materials requires more work than just placing materials in boxes on shelves.  Archives require daily maintenance and the correct storage facilities. This includes dusting, cleaning, monitoring for pests, and monitoring for the correct temperature and relative humidity.  Proper storage requires a temperature of 35-65 degrees and relative humidity between 30-50 percent, with little to no fluctuation between seasons.  These temperatures are not conducive to comfortable working conditions and are impossible to obtain with a standard HVAC system.

When I started in December of 2015, I immediately recognized the need for better storage in the current facilities. When monitored, the temperature and humidity fluctuated daily.  This can cause problems such as materials deteriorating at a faster rate, creating the potential for pests, and causing mold to activate.  Fortunately, there was a solution on the horizon.  Volpe Library had what was called “the dirt room,” which was a large space across the hall from archives set aside for future development during the library’s original construction in 1989. The room was not called “the dirt room” as a silly joke; it truly was an unexcavated room containing nothing but dirt.

Picture showing the piles of dirt located in the area prior to excavation.
Workers moving dirt out of the building through a large opening added for the purpose of working in this room.

Completing the project involved removing this dirt, finishing the room, and installing a dedicated HVAC unit for the archives that could maintain the storage conditions required of archive facilities.  The room, completed in December 2019, now boasts its own HVAC and new compact shelving unit which allows for future collection growth.  Tennessee Tech Archives staff and student employees worked diligently throughout the break and are continuing working into the new year getting the new facility up and running for the start of the semester.  Stay tuned for an open house in April for Tech and the community where we will show off our new storage facility and some of the treasures it contains.

The new HVAC system being installed.
The new aisles of compact shelving are in place!
The collections currently on the new compact shelving and being stored in the new facility.

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About University Archives

Archives and Special Collections resides in Angelo and Jennette Volpe Library on the first floor. The collection includes materials of legal, fiscal and historical significance to Tennessee Tech University and documents the history of the Upper Cumberland Region. The collection includes over 2,500 cubic feet of manuscripts, photographs, and archives from Tennessee Tech as well as surrounding people, businesses, and organizations of the Upper Cumberland. The collection contains books on the history and culture of the Upper Cumberland Region of Tennessee.
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