Why is the City Archives Closed?

A visit to the City of Edmonton Archives webpage shows that there will be periods of limited service at the Archives throughout August and into September. While the Reference Room and all self-serve resources at the Archives will remain available, with the exception of a complete closure to be announced for some point in September, retrievals will not be undertaken from August 13 through the end of September.

COE-archives “City of Edmonton Archives Entrance” August 30, 2018.

The question is this: what is preventing material from being brought from the vaults to the Reference Room for researchers? The answer lies in the measures taken to ensure the long-term preservation of the material. The storage vaults in the Archives have large cooling units in the ceiling which allow archivists to control the vault’s temperature and humidity. Both of these factors are vital for extending the life of the material and, when properly monitored and controlled, create an environment suitable for long-term preservation. Unfortunately, due to the age of the machines, it is necessary to remove them and install their replacements on the walls rather than in the ceiling above the records. This way, the potential risk of a machine leaking onto archival documents is mitigated.

COE-archives-cooling-fan “Cooling unit above storage space” August 30, 2018

To begin the process of installing the new units the archivists were required to ensure the safety of the holdings while work was being carried out. Where they were able, the archivists moved the storage boxes filled with archival documents into other areas of the Archives. Where relocation was not possible or needed, the archivists covered the shelves with plastic to prevent contamination from dust or liquid from the pipes that supply coolant and provide drainage for the units.

COE-archives-shelves-2 “Shelves covered with plastic sheeting and taped” August 30, 2018

To answer the question I posed above, the amount of work going on in the storage vaults prevents the archivists from physically accessing the records in a safe fashion. Even those records that were removed from work zones are covered by plastic sheeting to protect them from being mistakenly moved or damaged. By doing so, the records in their boxes are not only kept safe from errant dust or moisture, but also preserved from a sudden change in environment. Each box, while still closed, is its own microclimate. Although the units designed to provide the entire vault with an environment sufficient for preservation will be offline for the duration of the project, the boxes the records are stored in will provide a buffer to the change in temperature and humidity. As a result, the records will slowly acclimate to their new, temporary locations. Unfortunately, should someone open these boxes for a retrieval request, this buffering effect would end and cause undue stress and damage to the records.

COE-archives-shelves “Shelves emptied of their contents” August 30, 2018

The City of Edmonton Archives is looking forward to reopening to full service upon completion of the repairs and upgrades. In the meantime, rest assured knowing the records that document the history of Edmonton are safely placed away until their proper storage environments are restored. For more information as to when the City Archives will be reopening, please visit: edmonton.ca/archives