In an era when it seems too often we hear about libraries needing to sell off rare material as they can no longer afford to maintain it, an announcement from the University of Washington is most welcome news. The university is making a substantial investment in building facilities to provide proper conservation of rare books, manuscripts, maps and drawings. Many libraries have participated in digitization programs to preserve underlying text and make it more readily available worldwide. It is of enormous importance to learning and scholarship, but it is not everything. Virtual reality has its place, but so does real reality. A plaster cast of the Venus de Milo is nice, but it isn't the original. What the University of Washington is planning to do is critical to the maintenance of our history and culture, as it allows them to preserve the original material.
The university recently put out bids to renovate space on the fifth floor of the Suzzallo Library in Seattle. The space involved is substantial – 4,728 square feet. It includes maintaining all facilities found in the current mendery plus numerous new functions (for those unfamiliar with the term “mendery,” it is a place where books are repaired). There will also be a new conference room and office added. The new facilities will enable the university to repair books with more complex issues that previously had to be sent to outside conservators. The space to be converted currently consists of a storage area and some offices.
The university has estimated the cost to be $1.2 - $1.3 million, an indication of their seriousness in preserving their rare books.
Construction is planned to begin during the summer.