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Fort Meade Delivers, or Finding a Needle in this Haystack Couldn’t be Easier

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The other day I visited the Library of Congress’ High Density Storage Facility at Fort Meade, Maryland.  Yes, that’s right; we are shelving books in Maryland.  With 2.65 million volumes in the Law Library, you don’t really believe we shelve them all in the sub-basement of the Madison building, do you?

This Library of Congress annex sits on 100 acres in suburban Maryland, less than one hour from Capitol Hill.  There are now four storage modules operating with hopes to have 13 modules by 2027.  When I last visited Ft. Meade in 2007, only modules 1 and 2 were open.  These two hold books and bound periodicals.  Modules 3 and 4, which opened in 2009, have been designed to accommodate special materials – i.e. large boxes, tri-dimensional objects, maps, and other non-book formats.  There are also cold storage rooms for negatives, transparencies, and microfilm.

The facility follows the Harvard model for storage.  That is, books are boxed with similar sized items.  Same size boxes are shelved together to maximize capacity.  Shelves, boxes, and items are bar coded.  There is no browsing of the shelves – even if one received permission to ride the cherry picker down the aisles.

The Law Library has long since exhausted its allotment of space in Module 1.  We have sent 107,411 volumes between December 12, 2002 – October 29, 2003.  Most of these are second copies of titles held on Capitol Hill.  Approximately 10,000 volumes represent unique copies held by the Law Library.

We have also met (and exceeded) our quota for Module 2.  Originally allocated space for 200,000 volumes, we were able to send 215,915 volumes between January 30, 2006 – March 17, 2008.  The increase was due to a transfer of pre-1970 hearings from the general collection to the Law Library of Congress.  Of these volumes, 23,979 of these volumes are unique copies sent from the foreign law collections.

Modules 3 and 4 began receiving material this year.  The Law Library’s final allotment is for 6,191 boxes containing nine collections.  We began with a collection of records and briefs.  The first shipment of material took place on July 8, 2010.  In addition to these we are sending one set of the following:

Although I can’t help but think of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the camera pans over an enormous government warehouse, retrieval from Ft. Meade is accurate and reliable.  Books at Ft. Meade are listed in the catalog the same as books in our reading room and closed stacks – and they are requested in the same manner.  Delivery will take longer, however.  Deliveries from Ft. Meade are made twice daily.  Books requested by 8:00 a.m. are usually delivered the same day.  Books requested after 8:00 a.m. are generally delivered the following morning.  It’s a longer wait, but a 100% retrieval rate.

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