How to Protect Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Your family’s Documents from the Ravages of Climate Change

I will suggest that a story by Sophie Yeo in the PacificStandard web site should be required reading by archivists, librarians, genealogists, government officials, and anyone else who cares about preserving old paper documents. She writes, “Almost all American archives are at risk from disasters or changing temperatures. Community history will probably be the first to go.”

She also writes:

“This history, in the form of manuscripts, codices, printed books, and other material artifacts, is kept in expensive and well-ventilated university collections; it is tucked in crumpling cardboard boxes under the desks of local librarians; it sits crammed into the storage cupboards of city governments. Some documents attract scholars from around the world, while others hold scant interest beyond hobbyist historians. Many are irreplaceable.

“Almost all are at risk of degradation caused by projected temperature changes, humidity, sea level rise, storm surges, and precipitation, according to new research on United States collections by a group of archivists and climate scientists.”

The article also points to a recent study that says, “2.4 percent [of the U.S. archives] are susceptible to surface water flooding, while 17.7 percent are at risk of the combined effects of sea level rise and storm surge. The biggest threat was increased variance in humidity and temperatures, with 90 percent of archives expected to experience a swing of at least 1 degree Celsius, and 7.5 percent projected to face a variation of 10 degrees Celsius or more, under a high-emissions scenario.”

The article then goes on to offer solutions, including: “In addition, many libraries and archives are digitizing their collections, ensuring that anything destroyed by climate change continues to exist in pixels, if not on vellum and parchment and paper.”

You can find the article at:


The climate has been changing for eons and is not going to stop changing. Sea levels are rising, but not inches. in mm. Less than the thickness of a penny each year. Temperatures have remained basically stable over thr past 100+ years.


    My first succinct comment apparently didn’t make “the cut”. So I will just say thank you for your much appreciated comment.


Without giving an endlessly long list of disasters; recent events such as Katrina, Sandy (which she references) and the storms last summer have devoured library and archival collections along the coast. Forest fires and mudslides have destroyed museums and libraries in California, not to mention countless tornadoes in the mid-west. My library suffered tremendous damage from an F-5 tornado costing thousands of dollars and irreparably damaging our collections. Climate impacts collections in profound ways and not just surface water or storm surge. It is a serious topic for discussion and action, not just study.


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