One area of the library that is not often seen by the public is what happens when there is a change in exhibit spaces, and what is involved to do it. Recently, the Early Americas exhibition in the Library of Congress Jefferson building was de-installed in order for new exhibition spaces to be constructed. As such, there has been extensive planning that has been done in order to accomplish this. These types of projects take many months, and sometimes years, to plan and involve working with many different people in order to meet the project deadline while also ensuring safety for the objects involved.
For the conservation team, the safe handling and transportation is the key concern, and ensuring this involves the construction of custom housings. Jim Thurn, Preservation Specialist at the Library of Congress, along with other Conservation Collections Stabilization staff conducted measuring of the objects within the gallery space, and at times had to estimate the size through the glass window of the exhibit cases when access to the object was not possible.
Following this, housings were able to be made using the gathered measurements and stored until the de-install process began.
A huge help in the process was bringing on an Objects Conservator in 2021. With the addition of Elizabeth Peirce, she was able to complete a survey that determined which objects may require conservation treatment, and then used that information to determine the transportation location for each object. Together with the conservation team, they were able to discuss what materials and housings would be needed for each object. 55 new housings were constructed for the pieces on display, made by hand with the help of a box-making machine, which were used to safely transport and store the pieces within the Geography and Map division (G&M) vault.
A part of this planning also involved ordering three additional storage cabinets ahead of time in order to store the objects once off display. The available storage space was then mapped out so that each object had a specific location. Equipment was also ordered to ensure transportation went smoothly.
After this extensive organizing, chart-making and spreadsheet planning, in July of 2022 the Conservation team conducted the handling, housing and transport of the objects to the G&M vault. This involved entering the exhibition space before visitor hours, liaising with the Exhibits team to safely open the cases, and carefully handling the objects into the prepared housings. In the instances when the object was not able to be directly measured, the housings sometimes required extra support and in preparation of such an occurrence there was a table prepared in order to create necessary custom fittings using batting, volara foam and other materials in order to quickly and easily adjust box fit.
During this process, 151 pieces of 3D material were taken out. All of the small objects were removed in order to make way for the external contractors to come in and remove the three large ceramics and the eight paintings. After this, the large map in the pavilion was removed so that all of the old exhibit cases could be removed in order to make room for the new spaces, which is currently in progress.
This briefly covers some of the major aspects involved in de-install projects within a collecting institution. While the work for the new gallery spaces is still ongoing it highlights just how many factors must be taken into consideration, and with long term planning, what is needed in order to prepare new exhibitions.
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