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Thirty Years Ago – The Big Move

The following is a guest post by Mark Strattner, Chief of our Collection Services Division.

February 2, 2011 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the beginning of the move of the Law Library from the Thomas Jefferson Building to its present location in the James Madison Memorial Building.

Jefferson Building stacks.

On Monday February 2, 1981, the Collection Management Division began the transfer of the then 1.6 million volume law collection to the sub-basement stacks in the Madison Building.  The Division employed up to forty staff members who worked during regular hours and on overtime.  The collections were moved via book truck, using elevator number 6 in the Northeast book stack of the Jefferson Building, through the tunnel (slightly downhill) to the Madison Building, and down the Core B (blue) elevator to the sub-basement stacks.  Prior to the move, all the shelves in the sub-basement stacks were labeled according to the new shelving arrangement.  Law Library staff members provided on-the-spot direction in moving and reshelving all materials.

Single elevator used to move 1.6 million books out of the Jefferson Building.

Much discussion and planning took place before the start of the move to determine the optimal shelving arrangement of the collection in the new building.  Even though most of the collection was shelved under the home grown “LAW” system, it was decided that the collection would be shelved under the Class “K” system in order to minimize shifting in the future as the Class “K” system was designed and implemented.  The only exception was the K1-K30 general law reviews.  Before the advent of online resources, the general law reviews were the most heavily used part of the legal collection and thus were shelved closest to the control room to provide more timely access by staff.

Charting the collection in the Class “K” order was a complicated task because the collections in the five law divisions were not in Class “K” order in the Thomas Jefferson Building, and the Class “K” materials which were classed (K, KD, and KF) were fragmented and dispersed due to space problems.  In addition, the Law Library was given custody of the J1-J9 official legal gazettes, the Israeli law collection (previously held in the Asian Division), and the JX collection (except JX 1305-JX 1999).  It was decided that the actual shelving arrangement for each country would be the  official gazette (J), Class “K” material if any, and the LAW shelved material.  The floor plan of the shelving arrangement in the Madison Building was finalized based on the size of each individual jurisdiction or sub-jurisdiction, anticipated growth, and the amount of material held in storage for each jurisdiction.

One of two downhill slopes between the Jefferson and Madison buildings.

The last decision was whether the collection would be shelved down each range or across the ranges.  Steve Herman, Chief, CALM Division, suggested that the collection be shelved down each range.  The Law Library insisted that the collection be shelved across the ranges.  From the point of how to most easily shift a collection, the Law Library was correct.  From the point of how to most easily shelve a book truck, Mr. Herman was correct.

The original plan called for staff of each respective Law Library division, as they existed in 1981, to be moved when approximately half of the collection of the division was moved.  The plan was changed so that staff were moved when the official gazettes of their respective countries were relocated.  Staff members of the Hispanic Law Division were relocated on Wednesday February 4; the Near Eastern and African Law Division on Monday February 9; the Far Eastern Law Division on Wednesday February 11; the European Law Division on Friday February 13; the Office of the Law Librarian on Thursday February 19; the Reading Room on Friday April 10; the Processing Section on Monday April 13; and the American British Division on Tuesday April 14, 1981.

The new Reading Room opened to the public at noon on Friday April 10, 1981.  The reference collections of the old Reading Room were moved overnight into the morning so the disruptions to the public could be minimized.  The microform collection, including 21,000 reels of film and 500,000 microfiche were moved the evenings of April 14 and 15.  This collection had to be assembled prior to the move as it was housed in four different areas due to space problems.

One final elevator ride leading to the new stacks.

The relocation of the Law Library’s collection into the compact motorized shelving in the sub-basement stacks was completed on Tuesday May 5, 1981.  The gross area of the stacks is 81,000 square feet and the dimensions are 150 feet (N-S) by 540 feet (E-W).  The area is divided into four quadrants.  Due to the removal of shelving necessitated by oversized volumes, the planned shelving capacity of 68 linear miles was reduced to approximately 59.5 linear miles.  In vernacular language, visitors are told that the compact shelving stacks are the size of one and a half football fields (American, not European) compact shelving.  Or 78% of fair territory of Nationals Park, for those who prefer baseball terminology.

And now thirty years have passed.  The vast empty shelving in the sub-basement stacks that I was privileged to see on a tour the Friday night before the big move started are now shelved at maximum capacity.  The then 1.6 million volume collection has grown to a 2.78 million volume collection, of which 323,127 volumes have been moved off site to the state-of-the-art preservation facilities at Fort Meade Modules I and II.

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