In her poem "Music Mountains," Ofelia Zepeda says of the mountains surrounding Tucson:
It has been said before,
these mountains will not listen
if we simply speak words to them...
...We must come to them with music
so they are generous with the summer rains
that appear to start their journey from their peaks.
The summer rains that fall on Tucson in monsoon season have, I confess, been a source of some stress for me over the years--not because I don't love their wildness or the flowers they engender, but because they drive the ambient humidity through the roof, and this has serious repercussions for cultural heritage collections. Paper-based collections like ours can swell and contract with heightened or reduced moisture in the air, which makes big seasonal swings in the building's relative humidity a problem. If the RH spikes too high and stays high for days on end, we also start to worry about mold outbreaks. Every year right around this time, Team Library starts monitoring relative humidity on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis. We run a portable dehumidifier and come in on weekends to empty its water out. We run fans to keep air circulating in the collection. We just worry a lot every July.
This year, the monsoons started right on schedule, but our approach is a little different. Since the building is closed to visitors, I'm able to run the dehumidifier directly into a bathroom drain, which means we don't have to worry about overflows or gallons of water that need to be hauled outside on a cart. We've also recently installed a set of wireless environmental monitors from Conserv to measure light levels, relative humidity, and temperature in all our collections spaces; this data is available to us in the cloud, so we're able to monitor conditions while working remotely. The result: we're still pulling quite a bit of moisture out of our collections spaces, but I find myself worrying much less this year. The graphs show me patterns over time, not just single-moment spikes, and I'm able to see trends rather than just alarms. With knowledge comes...peace?
The summer of 2020 has been a strange and grief-stricken season. I think of Zepeda's poem and wonder, with some anguish: what music, what art, can we make of this? In the midst of it all, though, I am grateful to be able to worry a little less about the numbers coming off the environmental monitors. I'm grateful to be able to appreciate the generosity of the monsoon season once again. These rains are exuberant. They save nothing for the future. We stand beneath them in humility and in awe.