ARLINGTON -- Where there’s a whiff, there’s a way.

It’s been a dozen years since a vinegary odor wafting through the University of Texas at Arlington’s special collections library signaled the advancing deterioration among its 5 million historical film negatives, windows to North Texas history going back to the Great Depression.

The answer at the time was obvious — a cold-storage vault that would halt the ravages of time and room temperature, extending the lifetime of negatives to 500 years or more. But making it happen took years of planning, $810,000 in grants and donations, six months of construction and most of the past year testing the vault for temperature consistency and to work out any kinks.

“We were in jeopardy of losing our photographic images,” said Brenda McClurkin, head of special collections. “That was critical.”

Things are cool now.

There are three rooms in the library vault space, but the cornerstone is a 940-square-foot vault that maintains a near-freezing temperature of 38 degrees for the most significant preservation storage.

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