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Behind the Scenes: Collections on the Move

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This peek “Behind the Scenes” is the first post in an occasional series where we invite you to see how the Prints & Photographs Division manages a collection in excess of 14 million images.

The following is a guest post by Helena Zinkham, Chief, Prints & Photographs Division.

The Prints & Photographs Division has started to move hundreds of collections (30,000 containers) to a new storage facility in Ft. Meade, Maryland. This is not just any warehouse. It’s a state-of-the-art building with carefully controlled temperature and humidity designed to help the Library’s special-format collections survive for hundreds more years to come—manuscripts, music, maps, and rare books will fill the space as well as historical pictures.

A View Inside the Ft. Meade Storage Facility
A View Inside the Ft. Meade Storage Facility. Photograph by Beatriz B.M. Haspo, 2011.

The largest boxes are going first, from the Paul M. Rudolph architectural archive. Have you ever tried to carry a 4-foot long, 6-inch square corrugated board carton, filled with hand-drawn pencil and ink sketches or delicate renderings, rolled gently around a tube, and wrapped in an outer layer of protective plastic? Well, first, you would need a partner. Then, you would walk very slowly to set the box carefully on a huge map-case size cart to travel to Ft. Meade. Repeat the process 3,000 times, and you’ll appreciate the huge scale of this project–for just one collection!

Boxes from the Paul Rudolph Architectural Archive
Boxes from the Paul Rudolph Architectural Archive. Photograph by Greg Marcangelo, 2011.

Collections management and conservation staff are tremendous working partners. And, the Prints & Photographs staff is grateful for this opportunity to provide such wonderful storage conditions for the collections.  But, it will still take several more years of hard work to finish the project. Compiling “container lists,” re-housing collections, and mumbling about barcodes, security strips, and transport trucks will continue to occupy us for a good while yet.

We’ll keep you posted about any changes in access for research, but basically, you shouldn’t notice much change. We’ve checked; the boxes do come back!

[Paul Rudolph's architectural office in Manhattan. Perspective section rendering, with furnishings]
Paul Rudolph's Architectural Office in Manhattan, Perspective Section Rendering. Drawing by Paul Rudolph, 1964.



Learn More:

Read an article,
“Expanded Cold Storage Space Opens for Special Formats at Fort Meade,”
in the Library of Congress Information Bulletin.

Learn about the challenges posed and solutions found when Stabilizing Special Collections for High-Density Storage from the Preservation Directorate’s Web Site.

Get the Law Library’s perspective on their experience moving some of the law collections in Fort Meade Delivers, or Finding a Needle in this Haystack Couldn’t be Easier, an In Custodia Legis blog post.

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