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Material Handler Ronald Goode scans books in the COllections Maintenance and Security Unit, September 29, 2022. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress. Note: Privacy and publicity rights for individuals depicted may apply.

Making FETCH Happen

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Cathy Martyniak is Chief of the Collection Management Division and oversees programs that safeguard the Library’s collections through inventory management, storage and delivery of resources to fulfill user requests.

As of the last tally in 2022, the Library of Congress holds 175 million items, of which 25.5 million are cataloged in the Library of Congress classification system. Due to space constraints on Capitol Hill, 9.4 million items are shelved at two Library managed, high density storage facilities off-site. The items in these facilities are stored by size, in specially designed trays, on very high shelves, in a space designed with the best long-term preservation of the collections in mind, including low temperatures, low relative humidity, pest control and heightened security.  As the collections are stored by size and not classification number, special software called inventory management software (IMS) is needed to manage the initial ingest, request, and refile of the materials into the facilities.  Reader access to the materials is provided by twice daily delivery runs from the facilities to the Capitol Hill complex, and last year 51,529 requests were filled from off-site.

an elevated cart in the aisle between two tall collection shelves. Covered trays full of books are shown on the right and empty shelves are shown on the left front.
A staffer drives an order picker at the Fort Meade library storage facility. 2024.

When the off-site storage facility at Fort Meade opened in 2002, IMS software called Library Archival System (LAS) was implemented to track all new books and archival boxes arriving at the facility, which items were out on a request and when the items were returned, that they were refiled back to their original location. The LAS software worked for decades until the company offering it went out of business in 2022.

Staffer with books in hand, fills boxes books for transfer to and from Fort Meade,
Material Handler enters the barcode on every book in a tray into the IMS system. September 29, 2022. Photo by Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.
Note: Privacy and publicity rights for individuals depicted may apply.

Multiple large libraries in the United States used LAS to manage the collections stored in their local high density library storage facilities. Staff from LAS user libraries including the Library of Congress, Yale and those in the ReCAP consortium (Princeton, Columbia and New York Public Library) started to meet every two weeks in May of 2022 to determine if there was a way to move forward as a community to develop a new IMS application. The creation of a set of joint business requirements was the first order of business for the newly named IMS community. A final set of business requirements for the new software, named FETCH (Finding EnvironmenT for Collected Holdings), was approved by the IMS community in late Spring of 2023. The Library issued the joint requirements as a request for proposal (RFP) with a vendor then being selected and a contract signed in early July followed by the development kick off meeting in August 2023.

In certain cases, the Library of Congress requires contracted vendors to use an agile development approach to create software. Agile methodology is a project management approach that involves breaking the project into phases and emphasizes continuous collaboration and improvement. With staff from the Collections Management Division at LC taking the lead as Product owners, and staff from the IMS community sitting in as observers, the last ten months have seen tremendous progress on the development of FETCH. With modules that manage the process of ingesting new materials into the facility, accepting requests for materials to be delivered to the main library, directing returned materials back to their original location, accomplish administrative tasks like reports and adding user groups, and the ability to migrate LAS data into FETCH, the software should be completed in September of 2024.  Keep your eyes peeled, FETCH will be made available as open-source software on the LC Github repository server this Fall.

The IMS community continues to support the development of FETCH. The group has established a Steering Committee, a User and Technical Council, and is investigating organizational home options. Plans for the next round of FETCH development are already underway.

FETCH screen capture showing navigation panel on left and modules on main screen
A capture of the first screen of the FETCH Accession module. 2024

If anyone would like to learn more about FETCH, please reach out to the author, Cathy Martyniak, at [email protected]. For updates and information on FETCH and other collection management topics email [email protected] to be added to our listserv.

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