Introducing the Collections Management Division

In this blog, I present the Collections Management Division or CMD, one of the largest divisions in the Library of Congress and part of the Preservation Directorate. Here are some highlights of what we do, starting with the mission. CMD is responsible for the safekeeping of the Library’s collections through inventory control, storage, and delivery of resources to fulfill user requests.

The history of collections management at the Library of Congress stretches back to the 19th century. More precisely to the year 1897 when the activities were transferred from the Capitol building to the newly constructed Jefferson building and the service and care of the collections was incorporated into the Main Reading Room Division. Through the years, several internal reorganizations changed the name and expanded the activities and spaces under collections management’s purview. From the Reading Room Division (in 1939) to the Stack and Reader Division (in 1944) when the Division became the custodian of the General Collections to ensure use, security, retrieval services and maintenance of collections. Then in 1978, the Collections, Access, Loan and Management Division (CALM) was created and more recently, in 2019, was incorporated into the Preservation Directorate with the name of Collections Management Division (CMD).

When I joined the CALM Division over sixteen years ago, I thought that the acronym was quite interesting. Just imagine, working in the “CALM” Division. One could be led to believe that there was not much happening there. Every now and then, there were some comments about the name, assuming that our work was low pace and tranquil. But nothing could be farther from this notion. Quite the opposite. I can personally attest that our Division has always been and continues to be a very very very active place.

A view from the Jefferson Building stacks. Photograph by Matt Martin, 2021

But who are we actually? Well, CMD has more than 100 total staff, dispersed over four different locations, with a diverse wide range of expertise and backgrounds ranging from entry level roles through senior preservation and cataloguing specialists. Every one of which has their hands on books throughout the day.

One of our primary responsibilities includes space management for tens of millions of items across the three buildings on Capitol Hill (Jefferson, Adams and Madison buildings) and two of the Library’s off-site facilities  in Maryland. Another CMD responsibility is inventory control and chain of control. CMD serves as the custodial division for more than 22 million items in the Library’s General Collection and, as such, is in charge of inventory control, storage, and distribution of those collection items. We also provide transportation services for collections between Capitol Hill and our offsite storage facilities. In addition, CMD oversees circulation within the Library by maintaining chain of custody of collection items that circulate within the Library, through internal Library networks, and to external patrons. Our staff operates the facilities, material handling equipment, and information systems that enable collections to be distributed across the Library to be used by patrons and/or processed by Library staff.

So, let me describe some details about our work.

Currently CMD is divided in two major sections: Collections Maintenance & Stack Management Section (CMSM) and the Inventory Management and Document Fulfillment Section (IMDF), with additional senior level staff as the Administrative Officer, the Cataloguing Specialist/Problems Resolution Officer, the Program Specialist, and the Collections Officer. All managed by the Chief and Assistant Chief, who provide subject matter expertise in coordinating the planning, development, and implementation of the programs to effectively track collections items throughout their entire lifecycle in the Library, including processing, circulation both inside and outside the Library, and storage locations.

Processing items for off-site storage. Photograph Beatriz Haspo, 2008

The Collections Maintenance & Stack Management Section is responsible for managing collections and services at our offsite storage facilities at Ft. Meade and Cabin Branch in Maryland. CMSM also manages transportation of collections among these facilities, and the off-site transfer process. Some of CMSM’s many duties include arranging and shelving the millions of general collection items, maintenance of the storage decks, and retrieving book requests for congressional members, patrons, and staff. CMSM supports all major collection moves in the stacks, or as we call it “shifting.” This includes, re-arranging items, moving them to new locations, and constructing and dismantling shelves. As you can see, Library storage spaces are never static, particularly at the Library of Congress where we get hundreds of thousands of new collection items every year. It is a “fast-paced environment and the days and weeks fly by!”, as pointed out by CMSM Section Head.

 

Placing containers in the offsite storage facility. Photograph Beatriz Haspo: 2011

The Inventory Management and Document Fulfillment Section (IMDF) is responsible for all charge stations throughout the Library, providing services for Congressional and Library staff, Inter-Library Loan, and patrons. This includes delivery of charged/discharged items to appropriate charge stations, mailrooms, offsite locations and Reading Rooms throughout the Library, as well as Special Search requests and problem resolution items.  “The opportunity to interact with Congressional & Library staff as well as patrons is wonderful!”, said the IMDF Unit supervisor.

Inventory control is one of the most important activities in any library and, in CMD, the Program Specialist manages three programs related to inventory control. They employ almost 40 contractors conducting an array of inventory actions and ensuring 100% rate of accuracy in the bibliographic database of items/materials of both General and Special Collections. Collectively these contracts process over 1 million items per year.

Cataloguing is also critical for access. CMD has a Cataloging Specialist and Problems Resolution Officer, whose main duty is to make the General Collections available by resolving problems with the bibliographic, holdings and items records in the Library’s Integrated Library System (ILS), so that materials are accessible for Library patrons thru the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) whether stored onsite or offsite.

As the Collections Officer, I manage a broad range of activities to ensure preservation, access, security and storage of collections. I am responsible for developing and coordinating projects, studies, or surveys, serving as key planner for transferring collections off-site, and the primary liaison for projects related to digitization, reformatting, and preservation treatment of the collections managed by the Division. One of things I love most about my job is to welcome interns and volunteers from around the world as well as to engage our large staff and contractors in preservation activities that will prolong the life of our collections for future generations.

So, CMD has a sizable role in the overall management of collections within the Library of Congress and we have a sizable staff to support that role. Just to give a general idea of the magnitude of our activities, prior to the pandemic, we accessioned and relocated more than 650,000 items to our offsite facilities, our collections management technicians shelved more than 220,000 newly acquired items and items returning from use. We circulated more than 130,000 items and made more than 40,000 pickups and deliveries to reading rooms around the Library. And we received more than 60,000 individual offsite requests and carried out preservation stabilization activities on average to 35,000 items/year.

There is a lot more to tell, of course, and check back soon for an interview with our new Chief, Cathy Martyniak, who will join CMD starting November 8.

Stay tuned!

Book sections in Jefferson building. Photograph Matt Martin, 2021