Trinity College Dublin

Long Room at Trinity College Dublin

Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I and located on the site of an old monastery, Trinity College Dublin is Ireland's oldest surviving university and widely considered its most prestigious. One of the United Kingdom and Ireland's seven ancient universities, Trinity College is famed for the beauty of its Georgian architecture. One such building is the Old Library, Thomas Burgh's masterpiece, completed in 1732. Even today it dominates the view of the university. Running through the centre of the Old Library is the Long Room - an imposing and stunning 65 metre chamber which contains the library's oldest and largest books. After filling up rapidly, the roof was raised in 1860 in order to create a first floor and accommodate more books.

Today, the Long Room contains books mostly from the 15th to the 19th century, about theology, sciences, language, history, and Irish arts and culture. Trinity's most prized possession, however, is the Book of Kells, the medieval manuscript written in Latin containing the four gospels of the New Testament.

With a quarter of a million books, manuscripts and texts of such astonishing value, combined with one million visitors a year, preservation of the texts, either for display or loan to other museums, is an unenviable job. Chief conservator Dr. John Gillis, however, attacks it with the same enthusiasm he had when he started his role at the university in 1984. It can be a tricky job. "The library is located right in the centre of Dublin and is an historic but leaky building, so air quality can be a problem" Dr. Gillis points out. In fact, a study on air quality carried out by the university revealed a substantial amount of pollution and detritus found on the books. Poor air quality can lead to Red Rot - irreversible damage caused by sulphuric acid and hydrogen peroxide reacting with the leather tannins - making already fragile books even more so.

One such cause of Red Rot is high relative humidity, which along with temperature and light, must be monitored to preserve the precious artefacts. Protection from light is the reason why only one of the Book of Kells is on display at any one time.

Monitoring conditions has always been important for Trinity College. "It helped us identify a plumbing leak in a different building a few years back and avoid any damage to the collection" Dr. Gillis notes. But with the condition of every book catalogued, and an upcoming project to refurbish the Long Room, the monitoring needed updating. After some research, Dr. Gillis chose Eltek due to the high performance of the products, the user-friendliness of the software and the responsiveness of the customer service. With the help of D-Tech, Dr. Gillis quickly identified the GD10 and CB70 to measure temperature, relative humidity, and visible and ultraviolet light, and these were installed and ready to go in no time. These transmitters will be placed at strategic intervals throughout the Long Room and display cases. As Dr. Gillis points out, such a large and old room can have several locations with their own micro-climate. Plus, when the refurbishment happens the environment will need monitoring in the books' temporary new home. A building of concrete and glass has a markedly different environment to one made of timber. And the fact that all Darca software is applicable with any transmitter, means there are no plans to slow down. As Dr. Gillis explains "when we expand our collection, we know we'll be able to do so without any problems".

The biggest attraction was the fact that Eltek have moved with the times and have made data available on the cloud. "It's a real game changer" Dr. Gillis observes about Darca Connect - Eltek's new software allowing people to access their data wherever they are. Now, more than ever, people are working from their homes, so it comes as a source of relief to Dr. Gillis that he is able to monitor the conditions of the Long Room from the comfort of his home office. And it comes as a source of relief to us, that some of the most precious books in the world will be ready and waiting for us in their best condition as soon as we're able to visit again.

With thanks to Dr. John Gillis and Trinity College Dublin.

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