By GAIL FINEBERG
Books and bound periodicals that have been piling up on the floors in the stacks of Library buildings on Capitol Hill soon will be stored in a cool, dry environment that is expected to extend their lives sixfold, from 40 years on Capitol Hill to 240 years at Fort Meade, Md.
Book Storage Module 2, a new addition to the Library's storage and state-of-the-art preservation facilities at Fort Meade, opened on time and within budget with a celebration by the design-and-construction team on May 23, 2005.
Also completed was a new 500,000-gallon water storage tank and pumping system that will meet the Library's long-term fire-suppression needs for the 13 off-site storage facilities envisioned for Fort Meade.
"These facilities are a godsend," said Steven J. Herman, chief of the Collections Access, Loan and Management Division (CALM), describing overcrowded conditions on Capitol Hill, which are the result of the Library's annual net intake of more than 350,000 volumes—plus 2 million other items.
Beginning with what felt like a "lovefest" on Dec. 1, 2003, Herman said, the Library and five other "partners" met regularly to define and track construction project goals and hash out any problems, with the result that construction proceeded smoothly to completion, with all parties showing respect for one another.
The key, all seemed to agree, was "partnering." Stephen Ayers, Architect of the Capitol superintendent for the Library, gave credit for close supervision of the project to the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based at Fort Meade. The district deputy commander, Lt. Col. J.T. Hand, who had served in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq, gave credit to all "the boots on the ground," who executed the designs, and to two general contractors—Coakley Williams Construction, of Gaithersburg, Md., which built Module 2, and John C. Grimberg Co. Inc., of Rockville, Md., which built the water storage tank and pumping station. Einhorn Yaffee Prescott Architecture & Engineering PC, of Washington, D.C., designed all the new construction.
Module 2, which adjoins and opens into Book Storage Module 1, has 12,000 square feet of floor space and a storage capacity of 2 million books and bound periodicals, which will be boxed and placed on high-density industrial shelves that tower 30 feet below a 40-foot ceiling. An additional 2,000 square feet accommodate administrative and support spaces.
Environmental conditions in both modules are considered optimal for print-on-paper preservation. The temperature is kept at a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity stays at 30 percent. Volumes are cleaned and packed upright in specially designed boxes with lids. High-level particulate and gas filters in the HVAC system screen out damaging air pollutants. Sodium vapor lights, which do not give off paper-fading ultraviolet rays, illuminate the storage areas.
The collections are safeguarded by electronically controlled security and fire-protection systems connected to fire and police stations on the U.S. Army base at Fort Meade.
Robert S. Browne, the Library's safety services officer, said the new water tank, pumps and distribution system have the capacity to provide coverage for all of the Library's existing and future facilities at the Fort Meade campus. The diesel-powered system is designed to operate even in the event of a total electric power outage.
Browne said the storage facility is designed to meet loss criteria stipulated in the National Archives and Records Administration standards for archiving government records, as well as National Fire Protection Association codes.
He went on to praise the work of Rick Parker, the Library's fire safety manager, for his work on all of the safety systems. "His professional knowledge, tireless work ethic and close coordination with the construction team will ensure that these wonderful collections will exist long after we are gone," said Browne.
Leading a tour of both modules, Herman noted that Book Storage Module 1, which opened on Nov. 18, 2002, "is completely filled with 1.5 million books."
Proving that the Library's computerized retrieval system works, CALM staff members have filled more than 20,000 Capitol Hill book requests with a "100 percent retrieval rate" since Module 1 first opened, Herman reported to applause.
The item-tracking system involves giving every book a unique bar code that is linked to a storage box bar code, which is linked to a shelf bar code. The book's bar code appears in the Library's Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) and serves as the common identification element in the tracking systems of both the Library's integrated library system (ILS) and the Fort Meade facilities. All data captured by the Fort Meade tracking software are backed up regularly and saved at a secure off-site location for Library of Congress data protection.
To retrieve a book, a staff member locates the item in the ILS and issues a request for the item. The request is printed out at Fort Meade, and a staff member there enters the item ID (bar code) in the Fort Meade tracking system, which then indicates exactly which box the item is in, and on which shelf the item is located. CALM strives to maintain the twice-daily schedule of deliveries from Fort Meade to Capitol Hill that was promised in 2002. The goal continues to be that a patron's request received in the morning is filled in the afternoon, and a request received in the afternoon is filled the next morning.
Beginning in early July, CALM staff will be transferring 3,500 items a day from the Law Library, area studies and the general collections to Fort Meade. At this rate, Herman estimates, Module 2 will be filled in 2½ years.
By then, Modules 1 and 2 will have been filled to capacity with 3.5 million books—and the bookshelves on Capitol Hill will be overflowing again.
Running out of storage space has been a chronic problem for the Library since Congress created it in 1800 with 740 volumes and three maps. As the collections grew (the estimate now tops 130 million items), Congress opened the Thomas Jefferson Building in 1897, the John Adams Building in 1939 and the James Madison Building in 1980.
Planning for additional storage began in 1989, according to Herman, and in 1994 Congress transferred 100 acres from the U.S. Army at Fort Meade to the Architect of the Capitol for off-site construction for congressional use. Congress appropriated $3 million to pay for the design of future storage modules and a total of $4.7 million for the construction of the first module, which comprises a total of 24,800 square feet, including a footprint of 8,500 square feet for book storage, 6,300 square feet for office space and 10,000 square feet for mechanical rooms, loading docks and corridors.
Construction of Module 2, which began on April 17, 2004, cost $6.5 million, and the water storage tank and pumping facility cost $3 million.
The Library has asked Congress to approve a $40.7 million item that the Architect of the Capitol requested in its fiscal year 2006 budget to pay for construction of Modules 3 and 4 and refrigerated vaults to protect a portion of the Library's special-format collections at Fort Meade. These modules and vaults, which already have been designed, would house some 26 million items in special formats, such as maps, prints, photographs, microfilm and manuscripts. Many of these collections are unique, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said in budget testimony before the Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee on April 19, and they are stored in space that is either expensive or inadequate, without needed environmental controls. The Library's stacks are overly crowded, due to a five-year delay in beginning the module construction project, and off-site storage of some items limits their access, he said.
The Librarian urged Congress to continue adding storage modules as envisioned in the plan calling for 13 modules by 2027. The Copyright Office would have its own module in which to house deposits.
If the construction schedule is maintained, Module 5, which is the next book storage module, would be finished in time to store and preserve an additional 2 million books, just as crowding in the Jefferson and Adams building stacks is again reaching crisis proportions, Herman said.
Gail Fineberg is editor of the Library's staff newsletter, The Gazette.