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Yukon archives expansion will address growing issues with humidity

When the Yukon Archives was built, planners knew storage space would run out in 25 years, but they didn't know humidity would become an issue.

'The equipment was not really designed to dehumidify the air to the extent that we needed it to'

Rob Ridgen, archives conservator (left) and Ian Burnett, territorial archivist, in the mechanical room where the new ventilation system is installed. (Karen McColl/CBC)

When the Yukon Archives was built, planners knew storage space would run out in 25 years, but they didn't know humidity would become an issue. 

"We have a sense here at the archives that it's been on the increase for probably 10 to 15 years," said Rob Ridgen, conservator with the Yukon Archives.

"When the building was built back in '92, it was built to deal with the environment at the time. The equipment was not really designed to dehumidify the air to the extent that we needed it to be dehumidified." 

Ridgen says excess moisture coming into the building can create mould issues. 

"That can cause staining and weakening of paper materials. It can also lead to corrosion of materials — metals — over time."

The $6.2 million expansion underway at the archives includes an improved ventilation system that will allow staff to control humidity and temperature in both the old and new facilities.

Last summer was wet

Rain has been the main culprit for the archives' humidity woes over the years, Ridgen explained. When it rains, staff have to manually adjust the system so it doesn't draw in as much humid outside air. 

Historic humidity levels are hard to find according to David Millar, a retired weather service specialist with Environment Canada, but Yukon scientists said the territory received 40 per cent more rainfall than usual last year.

This machine, in one of the Yukon Archives vaults, measures and records humidity levels (the data has not been compiled and therefore couldn't be analyzed for this story). The real time temperature and humidity level is shown on the digital device above the hygrometre. (Karen McColl/CBC)

6,000 square feet more space

Ian Burnett, territorial archivist, is looking forward to having more storage when the space grows to 16,000 square feet. It will include more room for paper and digital materials as well as cold storage with 15 stand-up freezers.

"We've typically stored at risk materials in freezers," he said. "This [new storage] is a more robust vault for control of microclimates for storage of particular at risk media." 

Burnett said the expansion will be good for about 12 years at the rate of materials coming in. 

"I'd say we probably get about 600 to 800 boxes per year," he said about Yukon government files alone.

"In addition to that we receive donations of private records too, from individuals and corporations. And those can vary in size dramatically from a few photos in one collection to 30 boxes from another." 

Renovations at the Yukon Archives started in May 2016 and are scheduled for completion in June 2017. The estimated cost was $6.2 million. (Karen McColl/CBC)

Clarifications

  • This story has been updated to more clearly explain how staff handles humidity during rainy weather.
    May 12, 2017 11:25 AM CT

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