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Moving Day and a Major Anniversary

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Cylinders are queued up for packing.
Cylinders are queued up for packing.

This is a guest post by American Folklife Center’s Judith Gray, an ethnomusicologist who curates the largest body of early recordings of indigenous American songs and stories recorded in the United States.

After all the identifying, rehousing, cataloging, labeling, barcoding, and databasing activity on the part of AFC staff over the past year, the actual move of 8800 ethnographic wax-cylinder recordings is taking place today.

Our wonderful colleagues in the Library’s Conservation Division, led by Audiovisual Conservator Marlan Green, not only helped with supplies and their expertise, but also loaded more than 3000 cylinders in the packing boxes customized for their specific dimensions (42 cylinders per box). And when the professional art movers arrived this past Monday, they found not only those already-packed boxes, but also an efficient system already in place, with AFC staff member Marcia Segal pulling the cylinders in sequence from their storage cabinets and placing them in carts from which the movers, in turn, could conveniently lift and box them.

Fine art movers build "kivas" to transport boxed cylinders.
Fine art movers build “kivas” to transport boxed cylinders.

As boxes were filled and sealed, the movers began constructing the “kivas” — containers with a pre-formed base topped with two inches of foam on which are stacked 20 of the boxes containing cylinders.  The foldable sidewall unit is then pulled down over all the boxes and locked down top and bottom.  The kiva top is labeled with its contents.

With that–and a pallet-jack–the kivas were ready to move, first via the tunnels between Library buildings to a staging area in the Madison building, on the floor above the loading dock.  This meant each kiva had two elevator trips — and since the pallet-jacks didn’t fit in the elevators with the kivas, one was needed on both the upper and lower floors, to load and unload the kivas from the elevators.  After the kivas were all in the staging area, the cylinder storage cabinets went next.

Kivas are transported through tunnels at the Library of Congress.
Kivas are transported through tunnels at the Library of Congress.

On Thursday, the cabinets were picked up for holding in the movers’ facilities until Monday.   The cylinder-containing kivas are, however, going door-to-door today from Capitol Hill to the Library’s Packard campus in Culpeper, Virginia – their permanent home in the Library’s state-of-the-art audiovisual conservation center.

Once the cabinets arrive there on Monday, the movers will unload the kivas and put the individual cylinder boxes into the cabinets, completing the move.

Our heartfelt thanks, then, to the movers and to all of the Library staff involved in the complex logistics of this move, both here on Capitol Hill and down in Culpeper.

The group of about 30 cylinder recordings that are the oldest in the collection are _not_ however, making the trip today, but will go to Culpeper this summer, after digitization using a special process on equipment located here. That means they’ll be celebrating their 125th anniversary here with us on Capitol Hill:   these are the recordings of two Passamaquoddy men, Noel Josephs and Peter Selmore, made by Jesse Walter Fewkes in Calais, Maine, between March 15-17, 1890.

The kivas are loaded into the truck. The containers are re-usable and had been used to move materials at the Ft. Meade medical center, so were labeled “Neuro 178.”

Note:  The term “kiva,” used by the art movers, for the containers in which the boxes of cylinders have been loaded, has interesting resonance for those of us dealing with the content of the recordings.  The majority of the cylinders in the collection are Native American.  In the context of Pueblo rituals, kivas are ceremonial structures, often partly or completely underground, usually round, and gender-specific spaces.   The kivas of the art movers are square and definitely not considered ritual spaces, and only a portion of the cylinders transported in them are of Pueblo origin.  But it was an interesting coming-together of terminology.




Comments (3)

  1. It is so good to know what superb care these national treasures get from the amazing, caring, dedicated specialists at the Library of Congress. I’ve had many wonderful experiences at the Library over the years and I look forward to many more. I hope to access the recordings in the near future as part of the study I’ll be doing at the “On Native Ground” summer institute in June. These treasures wouldn’t continue to exist without folks who care. Thank you so very much.

  2. I can only fully agree with Mr. Lawlor and to personally be impressed that extreme measures are taken to preserve our heritage. So much has been lost or sadly deteriorated in other venues.

    Well done.

  3. sends shivers down my spine, but I know that your staff can handle anything. After all, you are the people who preserve the Lomax recordings of the Densons and other Sacred Harp singers recording SH in Birmingham during WWII. An awesome heritage for my family, and how terrific that we do not have to try to care for it ourselves, and make it available to scholars and the public! Kudos all around. And thanks to Mr. Lawlor for using the collections. That’s what keeps them alive.

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