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Moving Card Catalogs: Overcoming Challenges in a Collaborative Way

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This blog describes the collaborative actions taken to move thousands of card catalog drawers of the Copyright Office to a final destination and how the Collections Management Division (CMD) overcame some challenges during this project in a creative way.

Card catalogs have been used to keep a register of bibliographic data of items in library collections for over 160 years. While most of the data is nowadays electronically available through the online public access catalog (OPAC), some card catalogs are still needed as a secondary source of information for researchers. The card catalogs are usually made of solid wood with small drawers containing hundreds of paper cards each with bibliographic information. These drawers are stacked in units up to around five feet high and can weight up to 500 pounds each. In other words, they are very heavy to move around.

The Copyright Card Catalog Project began as remodeling efforts for the Copyright Public Records Reading Room.  Copyright required the relocation of a portion of its card catalog files to a final permanent location according to an established room layout created in collaboration with the Facility Planning and Project Unit of the Library of Congress.

In this interview, Derrick Coleman (materials handler supervisor of the Collections Maintenance & Stack Management Section of CMD) describes details of the project and the creative solution to resolve some challenges presented during the move.

  1. What actions were needed?

The Collections Management Division was tasked with moving more than 168 card catalog cabinets to a permanent destination in the Madison Building. The cabinet units are stacked 3-high, most with 36 drawers each or more. In summary, we are talking about approximately 7,000 individual drawers. They needed to be strategically removed within limited space using electric pallet jacks and placed within the new space according to a pre-determined layout. We had just a couple of months to complete this job.

Copyright card catalogs prior move. Photograph by Jarletta Walls, 2022.
  1. What challenges did you face during the move?

Within a couple of weeks of completing the project, when the cabinet units were almost all installed with all drawers in place, there was a change in configuration of the room layout. This caused a halt to the relocation process and resulted in the need for reorganization of the relocated files. The reorganization required us to re-position the card catalog units in the room in a different order. The challenge was not having sufficient space in the room to rearrange the bulky and heavy cabinets. We only had a small aisle that could fit just a couple of book-trucks at a time.

  1. How did you overcome the challenges?

Because of the limited space, Team Lead Andre Harold, came up with the idea of removing the individual card catalog drawers, instead of moving the heavy cabinets themselves. Then, placing the drawers on book-trucks in groups to rearrange one by one to the new order according to the revised layout. This was a creative idea that minimized the impact on the project schedule. The re-arrangement took another three weeks, instead of additional months.

During relocation of drawers. Photograph by Jarletta Walls, 2022.
  1. What was the impact of this project for the Service Unit? And for CMD?

CMD completed the rearranging of card catalogs much sooner. Therefore, the service unit was able to make the files accessible more quickly. We were very glad with the result.

  1. What were the lessons learned?

It is important do be in constant contact with all stakeholders as much as possible during the execution of a project.

According to Jarletta Walls, head of the Records Research and Certification Division from the Copyright Office, “the Copyright Office is very much appreciative of CMD for excellent teamwork.  The staff was efficient and dedicated to successfully completing the project.” Rebekah Y. Brockway, supervisory facility planning and project manager wrote to CMD managers “The creativity and teamwork you and your teams displayed truly warms my heart. You are the true examples of what a great partner looks and acts like!”

Copyright card catalogs relocated in the new space. Photograph by Jarletta Walls, 2022.


Comments (3)

  1. As the Library of Congress moves to digitizing the records located in the card catalogs, what happens to all of the card catalog cabinets?

  2. Outstanding job and team work!

  3. Awesome job by CMD Material Handlers

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