UTA Library Preserves Photo Negatives in Big Chill

One room in the vault can keep the photo negatives at a constant 38 degrees, where they could last for 500 years.

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One of the biggest problems facing archivists who deal with photographic negatives is how to stop them from deteriorating.

The special collections library at the University of Texas at Arlington was facing that problem as a vinegary odor began permeating the special collections area about a decade ago — a clear sign that some of the 5 million historical film negatives were beginning to degrade, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

After years of planning, $810,000 in grants and donations, six months of construction, and testing for much of the past year, the UTA Library has unveiled a cold-storage vault that could help preserve those negatives for up to 500 years, the Star-Telegram said.

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Brenda McClurkin

“We were in jeopardy of losing our photographic images.”
Brenda McClurkin

“We were in jeopardy of losing our photographic images,” Brenda McClurkin, head of special collections, told the Star-Telegram. “That was critical.”

The three-room vault space includes a 940-square-foot vault that maintains a chilly 38-degree environment for the most-significant storage. The adjoining 480-square-foot “cool room” remains at a constant 64 degrees for such things as DVDs, photographs, and other items that don’t require such cold temperatures.

Included among the special collections’ photo holdings are an estimated 4.8 million negatives and 185,000 prints donated from the Star-Telegram’s archives. Those have been placed in the cool room for preservation to begin while shelving continues, the Star-Telegram reported.

The deterioration problem was serious.

A photo preservation consultant hired by UTA estimated that roughly 45 percent of theStar-Telegram’s negatives at the library were deteriorating, said John Robinson, executive vice president of the Amon Carter Foundation, which donated to the vault project.

The first $300,000 in funding for the vault came from The National Endowment for the Humanities. The rest came from several other foundations, the Star-Telegram said.

From a preservation standpoint, the vault is more than pretty cool, it’s very cool. You can read more of the Star-Telegram report and see photos of the vault here.

Additional reading about the UTA Library

UTA Attends White House Makerspace Roundtable

UTA Leading Effort to Develop Disabilities History Portal


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