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Rows of trucks contained materials ready to be shipped to the Bindery.
Preparation is right in the name. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

A Panoramic View of the Processing and Preparation Section

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It may be difficult for many staff members and visitors to the Library of Congress to truly visualize the width and breadth of the Library’s collections. Yes, the collection is stored across several buildings on Capitol Hill, rented space in Cabin Branch, and specially constructed storage areas in Culpeper, VA, and Fort Meade, MD. For the staff of the Processing and Preparation Section (PPS), it’s easy to visualize, because we are surrounded by it.

The entrance to the Processing and Preservation Section in the James Madison Memorial Building.
Welcome to PPS! Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

PPS is located on the ground floor of the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress. Situated such that it can send out and receive deliveries via the Loading Dock, PPS receives items from all across the Library. Our collections are our treasures, so yes, it is a secure area.

Wooden trucks come unencumbered, but most arrives in locked, plastic security trucks.
Then arrive the new materials. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

These trucks carry items from the various cataloging divisions down to PPS. Staff sort each truck, attempting to categorize by size and binding style over 150 books an hour. Once the truck is empty, it is set out for the return to be loaded up once again. For the past several months, the PPS staff has made sure to clear out trucks as fast as possible to keep other parts of the Library churning along.

Trucks of sorted books sit next to the PPS break room, awaiting processing.
All sorted then. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

Books are split by thickness, binding style, and whether or not they contain pocket material whether it be maps or foldouts, or machine-readable items such as CDs or flash drives. Books that are glued, also known as permabound or double-fan adhesive, are style B or UB, depending on thickness. Books that are sewn with multiple signatures are RS. Single signature books are P for pamphlets. About two-thirds of the standard thickness items, style B or RS, are sent straight to the shelves as part of the Fixed Location shelving program, which we nicknamed SoftServe. The rest remain to be hardbound.

Rows of trucks contained materials ready to be shipped to the Bindery.
Preparation is right in the name. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

Hundreds of books stand waiting, waving the white flag of the binding ticket. Each ticket tells the bindery the pertinent information about each tome, which they check against the digital records. These items may have to wait to go to the bindery, but because they are already prepared, we know where each one of them is at all times.

Stacks of plastic bins on plastic skids full of books.
Packed with care. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

Plastic containers strapped to heavy-duty skids are used to safely transport bound and unbound materials back and forth to the bindery in Indiana. In this picture, the first skid on the left sits empty awaiting future containers, shown stacked to its side. The second skid is currently being packed. The third skid is packed, strapped, and ready to go. The final skid on the right has returned from the Bindery and is about to be unpacked.

Bound materials returned from the Bindery
Bound and tagged. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

The hardbound materials, mostly wrapped in ruby buckram, are shown on book trucks awaiting the quality review. These trucks make up about two-thirds of a regular shipment, which tends to number over 2,000 books. The QA process, as described in a recent blog post, will catch errors both major and minor. PPS staff maintain a 1% or lower error rate, and are always striving to do better.

Three large, wooden transport trucks, loading up.
To the stacks. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

Tall, wooden transport trucks are being packed to carry items to the custodial units in the Thomas Jefferson and John Adams buildings. The truck on the left holds items bound for the Asian Reading Room, the center for African and Middle Eastern reading room, and the right also to the African and Middle Eastern reading room, but specifically Hebraic language items.

Three wooden transport trucks, one packed ready to leave.
Generally speaking. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

In the image above you see three transport trucks holding items for the General Collection, which covers many books published in the U.S. and Western Europe. The left transport truck is being filled with the “SoftServe” materials mentioned above. The middle truck is in the process of being packed with hardbound items for the General Collection. The right truck is full, and locked for secure transport to New Acquisitions Processing in the Adams Building.

It's bigger on the inside.
To the wider library. Photo credit: K.F. Shovlin, 2024

The halls of the Madison building are austere and professional, color coded by quadrant of the building. Each day hundreds of books are rolled up and down this long hallway either coming to be processed, or off to the shelves. With 18,000 new items arriving each day, it is only a matter of time until the newest pieces of literature grace these halls. When they do, they will be cherished, and protected, for years to come.

To find out more about the Library’s collections and the preservation activities necessary to keep the largest library in the world available, be sure to subscribe to this blog and check back weekly!

Comments (2)

  1. Keith, this is a well written blog post that shows the importance of the work that we do in PPS. Great photos as well. It shows that we are an intricate part of the Library of Congress to ensure that these materials reach the shelves and are accessible for readers.

  2. As a librarian managing a small operation, I find the scale of your operation mind-blowing! Thank you for sharing a behind the scenes view of LC.
    Frank van Kalmthout,
    Librarian
    Archives of Ontario
    Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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