The computing behind the costumes

UITS plays a starring role in preserving the Glenn Close costume collection

PRICELESS GARMENTS. Kelly Richardson, curator of the Sage Fashion Collection, displays the red mink and mongolian lamb jacket that helped bring Cruella de Vil to life in "101 Dalmatians."

When Indiana University announced last fall that actress Glenn Close was donating her costumes to the Sage Fashion Collection within the School of Art, Architecture + Design, technology might not have been top of mind for most people.

 

After all, the legendary film, television, and theatre actress—who has earned six Academy Award nominations, and three Emmy and Tony awards—had just bequeathed more than 300 costumes from such films as “Dangerous Liaisons,” “Fatal Attraction,” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

For Close, however, IU’s facilities and technical expertise were a major factor in her decision to donate.

“I am thrilled and deeply grateful that my collection will have a permanent home in the beautiful, state-of-the-art archival center on the Bloomington campus of Indiana University, where it will be used for inspection and inspiration by students and faculty,” she said in the IU news release. “I feel an energy, curiosity, and quest for excellence at IU that matches my own. Each costume has a story, and I will keep adding to the collection as long as I find stories to tell.”

Looking at a jacket in the sage collection

A delicate situation. The Close Collection is stored in ALF using museum standards for security and state-of-the-art environmental controls. Richardson, right, and her assistant Emily Rosolowski, carefully examine a piece in the Sage Fashion Collection.

The state-of-the-art archival center she speaks of is the Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility, or ALF, managed by Indiana University Libraries. Located out on Range Road near the 45/46 Bypass, ALF is where the costume collection is now stored. It joins nearly 4 million other items, mostly books, that are preserved in the highly secure, climate-controlled building.

UITS staff members help keep ALF humming along. “UITS plays a significant role in our successes and has worked with us and IU Libraries IT personnel historically, really from day one, to turn our ideas into reality,” said Vaughn W. Nuest, head, Auxiliary Library Facilities Management Services.

Nuest cites the critical server management, maintenance, security, and backups that UITS does to protect the data delivered by ALF’s inventory control software.

“With 3.8 million items secured into our facility to date, each having as many as 15-20 data points connected to it to promote categorization, location, current status, and more, there are between 500 million and 750 million critical data elements associated with our holdings that are in the care of UITS,” he explained.

A label detailing some of the items in the sage collection

Organization is key. Glenn Close donated more than 300 costumes to IU, many with multiple pieces. This box contains the garments for one scene in the 2004 movie “The Stepford Wives.” 

In addition, UITS helped Nuest and his staff install lines and monitor temperature and humidity controls. UITS also enables communication between the building’s HVAC, security, and fire suppression systems and the IU Physical Plant for the rare times when they need to service or tweak one of these systems.

This kind of careful monitoring is reassuring for Kelly Richardson, curator, Sage Fashion Collection.  

“I can’t tell you how much better I sleep at night, knowing our collections are safe and secure,” she said. “With fashion, there are enormous things you can learn about economics, industry, social history, how we view gender, our young, our old. It’s a very personal artifact that both conceals our body but reveals everything about us.”

“These costumes will be used and looked at in ways we don’t even know yet,” Richardson said.

Racks in the ALF building at Indiana University

Millions of books and more. ALF is described as a high-density shelving facility designed to alleviate shelving space constraints in the IU Libraries. It has recently opened its doors to other artifacts.

Nuest acknowledged that ALF and his team’s efforts toward housing the Sage Fashion Collection are a direct result of the importance that IU President Michael McRobbie places on preservation.

“If we assume the university will be here for many generations to come, it wouldn’t do for us to have these collections crumble in our midst, be overtaken with mold, or be exposed to ultraviolet light,” said Nuest.