The humidity is rising in Las Vegas — at least in the Special Collections area of UNLV’s Lied Library. To prepare for First Folio! The Book That Gave Us Shakespeare, a traveling exhibit arriving on campus in September, UNLV’s University Libraries and facilities management teams have been making special preparations to protect the invaluable cultural artifact.
Printed seven years after Shakespeare’s death, the First Folio includes 36 of his plays, including 18 that had never been printed before. Without the First Folio, plays such as Macbeth, Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and As You Like It might have been lost forever.
“The climate in Southern Nevada presents some unique challenges for meeting the Folger Shakespeare Library’s requirements to display the folio,” said Michelle Light, director of Special Collections. For example, the humidity in Special Collections had to be raised to more than 30 percent.
“The folio was published in 1623 and is one of the world’s most treasured books, so we need to get conditions just right,” Light said. “Too warm temperatures can speed up deterioration. If the humidity is too low, the paper can get brittle. Fluctuation in humidity can cause the pages to expand and contract, leading to damage. Facilities management has come up with creative solutions to address these issues and make this space ready for the exhibit.”
Facilities management researched several options before purchasing three free-standing humidifiers to use for the project and the UNLV plumbing shop ran dedicated water lines from a nearby storage area into the Special Collections reading room. The humidifiers were strategically placed to provide maximum dispersal of the humidity throughout the open area.
The humidifiers are just one step in comprehensive behind-the-scenes work underway prior to the arrival of the rare book for the month-long exhibit. Since UNLV University Libraries was announced as the only Nevada location for the Shakespeare exhibit, facilities management has been collaborating with University Libraries faculty to prepare Special Collections for the exhibit’s strict requirements.
“To ensure we are maintaining the environmental conditions necessary to safely house the folio, we have installed several sensors throughout the Special Collection area,” said Scott Wright, assistant director of Facilities Management. “These sensors collect data on factors such as humidity and temperature that we will then transmit to the Folger Shakespeare Library.”
Since heat accelerates the decay of historical documents, the temperature in Special Collections must be maintained at a relatively cool 69-71 degrees. Facilities management installed a dedicated redundant 5-ton air conditioning unit to back-up the Libraries’ existing HVAC system.
Light, especially direct sunlight, also accelerates the deterioration of archival materials, causing inks to fade and pages to become irreversibly damaged. In addition to blacking out the windows in the area, Facilities Management is installing new lighting to reduce the amount of direct light that will be on the folio from 30 foot-candles to 5 foot-candles. Flash photography in the room is not allowed.
“Facilities management has done an exceptional job addressing each of the requirements to prepare Special Collections for the exhibit,” said Light. “Their behind-the-scenes work will make this an exciting opportunity to showcase the University Libraries and Special Collections to the community while celebrating and learning about the legacy of William Shakespeare and his many works.”
Visiting First Folio
More than 7,000 people are expected to visit the exhibit or attend one of the planned First Folio events in September. Reservations now are being accepted for self-guided tours of the exhibit.
University Libraries faculty have planned a number of community events in conjunction with the exhibit, including a sneak preview of the Nevada Conservatory Theatre’s The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip-hop theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, on Sept. 1 and the lecture Saint-Omer Shakespeare First Folio Goes Viral by leading Shakespeare expert and UNR professor Eric Rasmussen on Sept. 18.
Special Collections also will showcase rare books published during the time of William Shakespeare and display costume drawings and posters for UNLV theatre productions of Shakespeare’s works.
First Folio has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the Human Endeavor, and by the support of Google.org, Vinton and Sigrid Cerf, the British Council, Stuart and Mimi Rose, and other generous donors.