The Cool Collective Success Continues: The Opening of the Newest Collection Storage Module!

Our previous blog A Cool Collective Success! Preserving Collections Offsite presented the general details about the Library of Congress offsite storage facility at Fort Meade, MD. Check it out!

In this blog, I share our excitement about the opening of our newest storage location at Fort Meade, Module #6, and the many actions taken in planning, construction and transfer logistics to get to this point, including how this state-of-the-art storage facility impacts the preservation of our General and Special Collections.

The first containers holding sheet music documents from the Music Division were placed on the shelves of Module #6 on August 16th. These were just the first of approximately 16 million items of a wide variety of formats that will be moved to Module #6 over the next three years. These items will come from our General and Special Collections, among them the American Folklife Center, the Veterans History Project and the Geography and Map, Manuscript, Music, Prints and Photographs, Rare Book and Special Collections and Serial and Government Publications Divisions.

Indeed, a massive undertaking requiring a multitude of people to make it such a successful project.

Marcus Toler, Materials Handler and onsite supervisor at Fort Meade, placing the first containers inside Module #6. Photograph Shawn Miller (8/16/2021).

Having been intensively involved with the off-site storage project for two decades, this moment of opening a new module is always emotional and exciting for me for many reasons.

Well, to start, Module #6 is the first double module in the facility, with a total construction area of 35,000 sq. ft. To give a general idea, this area represents approximately 30 times the size of an average 2-bedroom apartment[1].  It is an enormous space that includes the collections storage area (25,000 sq. ft.) with over 17,000 shelves going up to 30 feet high. This makes almost 15 miles of shelves. In addition, it is the first time that a pallet storage area for unprocessed collections was included inside the module. The huge size alone makes this project very complex.

Panoramic view inside Module #6. Photograph Shawn Miller (8/16/2021).

Adding to that, there is the excitement about our successful space management system, known as planograph. In Module #6, the planograph was implemented for hundreds of thousands of containers of over 45 different shapes and sizes.  The planograph defines exactly where every single one of those containers is placed on each shelf. And there are many shelves indeed! This means that each shelf design identifies which type, how many and the position of each one of the boxes aiming to optimize the storage space.  This true engineering process, that I designed years ago for previous modules and continue to be in charge of, has been useful ever since to optimize space management as well as transfer logistics. One could picture it as a giant puzzle that takes many months to be prepared. In fact, this process starts a couple of years before the construction begins with the compilation of the list of all collections assigned to be transferred offsite by the custodial divisions.

Beatriz Haspo, Collections Officer, inspecting shelf elevation according to the planograph at 20 feet high. Photograph by Beatriz B. M. Haspo (June 2021).

Once this list is compiled, staff of the Collections Management Division (CMD) takes a critical and active role in preparing these collections to move, including housing, labeling, transporting as well as carrying out detailed inventory of each one of the 2.6 million trackable items prior transfer. A thorough inventory process is required in order to ensure that every item can be tracked in both our bibliographic system (ILS) as well as in the archival storage system (LAS). Through these actions, CMD staff and contractors have ensured 100% retrievability of all the items stored offsite to this date.

I always feel honored to be a part of the history of the Library, storing historic material to preserve for future generations, that my sons are part of, is an amazing feeling.  It’s great to be a part of that”, said Marcus Toler, Materials Handler and onsite supervisor at Fort Meade.

Preservation Directorate staff is active in designing specifications for equipment and furnishings that will be in the proximity to the collections, such as, shelves, transportation carts, boxes, labels, among others. They also review and test construction materials used inside the collections storage modules to ensure that these items will comply with long-term preservation requirements.

Another accomplishment is the state-of-art environmental conditions of 50°F temperature and 35% relative humidity all year long. This cool and dry environment increases the longevity of collections multi-fold.

The success of such a complex project happens through the collaboration of multiple federal agencies and hundreds of people of various expertise, such as Library’s managers, curators, engineers, architects, security, communication and IT specialists, health and safety and emergency preparedness professionals, and, of course, the Preservation Directorate staff. This project is entirely funded by Congress and the Architect of the Capitol is the entity responsible for the construction of our off-site storage facility.

Adding to all of that, this is the first time that we completed a storage module during a pandemic, which created immense new challenges to an already complex project. Nevertheless, the construction was successfully completed with minor schedule impact, and we are extremely proud of it.

So, when I see the first containers being placed on the shelf, I can’t avoid thinking about the past five years of planning, all the issues above, the challenges, the unprecedented situations, the small and big accomplishments. Most of all, I think about how many people have worked to make this happen and their steady commitment to the preservation and access of the Library’s collections for future generations.

Well, the transfer of collections has started at full speed, and we look forward to seeing all these miles of shelves occupied in the years ahead.

A truly cool collective success!

And off we go, finalizing the planning for Module #7.

General view of the Library of Congress Collections Storage Facility
Photograph: Architect of the Capitol (July 2021).

[1] Average size of newly built two-bedroom apartments in the United States from 2008 to 2018: 1,138 sq ft. Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/943958/size-newly-built-two-bed-apartments-usa/ (date: 09/2021)

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