Rare Books Blog

May 4, 2010

I received dozens of wonderful thank-you letters from the fourth-grade students of Ridge Road Elementary School in North Haven, who visited on April 22, like the one pictured here from Chandler. I read every single one of them. Judging from the letters, the Supreme Court Bobbleheads were a huge hit, as were the medieval manuscripts in our exhibit, “Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings.”

Chandler was one of several students who asked questions in their letters. Good questions from good students deserve good answers.

Chandler asks: “Do the old books need to be in hot or cold temperature?”

Cooler temperatures are better for old books, Chandler. Cooler temperatures slow down chemical reactions that cause the materials in books to deteriorate. Warm temperatures, combined with high humidity, can also cause mold spores to wake up and begin reproducing. It is also important to keep old books at an even temperature, because changes in temperature can cause the books to change their shape. In the Law Library’s Rare Book Room, we keep the temperature at a steady 69 degrees Fahrenheit, and a relative humidity of 45%. You can learn more from a leaflet titled Temperature, Relative Humidity, Light, and Air Quality: Basic Guidelines for Preservation, from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

Sydney writes: “I never thought the sun could destroy or ruin all those beautiful books! So, what sort of things do you put in the exhibits while the sun is out in summer?

Sunlight cannot reach our exhibit cases, Sydney. In addition, we have taken several steps to limit the chance of damage from light. The plexiglass on the exhibit cases filters out almost all of the ultraviolet light. We also have sleeves on the flourescent light tubes, to cut down the general level of light. For more information, see Protection from Light Damage, a leaflet from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

Ever writes: “I still can’t believe that the Yale students get to touch, hold and read the books. Wouldn’t the books just break into little pieces?”

We have special rules for handling the books, Ever. The books must stay in our reading room, under my supervision. The readers use special foam cradles to support the books, they must use pencil instead of ink to take notes, and they must handle the books with care. However, we want students to use our books. The books come alive when they are used. Our job is not only to collect and protect these treasures, but also to share them with students and teachers.

Finally, to all the Ridge Road students who said they wanted to come visit again: Please do come back!

Best wishes,

MIKE WIDENER
Rare Book Librarian

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