Archives On The Air 37: Sweaty Documents—Climate Change In The American Heritage Center

Aug 7, 2018

A wrapped pallet containing historical documents about to be shipped from Utah to the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming, July 2016.
Credit Molly Marcusse

Today we are going behind the scenes at UW’s American Heritage Center and taking a look at some of the work unseen by people using the archives.

Climate change floods the news headlines but in the archival field this refers to acclimating documents that come from other climates.

Most archives, like the American Heritage Center, have temperature and humidity controlled storage rooms - a handy tool for long-term preservation.

But some materials shipped from across the country need time to acclimate to Wyoming’s arid climate.

When donations arrive from the humid East Coast, the boxes may already be literally sweating. Opening a sweaty box and exposing the contents to our dry climate can cause documents to swell or moisture to shed at an accelerated rate.

Books, paintings, and photos are particularly vulnerable to this change.

To prevent this and protect new donations, boxes may sit unopened for a set period of time before we begin our work to make them accessible to the public.

UW’s American Heritage Center takes all precautions to ensure that every document is preserved to the best of our abilities.