The Library of Congress is transferring the entire collections and facilities of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division to a state-of-the art facility in Culpeper, Va., about 60 miles south of Washington. This is the first of several articles about the National Audiovisual Conservation Center.
By HELEN DALRYMPLE
For the first time in its history, the Library will be able to consolidate its audiovisual collections, currently held in four states and the District of Columbia, at one location, the culmination of a more than 15-year-old report that argued for the need for a state-of-the-art facility to house and preserve the extraordinary sound and film collections of the national library.
Staff, to date, have moved 2 million collection items to the Library's new National Audiovisual Conservation Center (NAVCC) in Culpeper, Va., since the first 45-rpm record was placed on a shelf in the new Collections Building on Feb. 6. Moving-image materials began to arrive at the new facility on March 13.
All of the Library's audiovisual collections of 4 million items will be transferred to the center on a carefully planned schedule over the next year and a half, from storage in all of the Library's Capitol Hill buildings as well as facilities in Landover and Jessup, Md.; Dayton, Ohio; Boyers, Pa.; and Elkwood, Va. The entire facility, comprising four buildings on 45 acres, is scheduled for completion in spring 2007.
As the new national audiovisual preservation complex moves from conception to reality, it stretches for 1,200 feet across the west face of Mount Pony, southeast of Culpeper. The 415,000-square-foot complex will include four buildings. A Collections Building will store the Library's audiovisual collections, including all sound recordings, non-nitrate films and videos. A separate building will house two storage pods containing 124 specially constructed vaults for nitrate film collections. A Central Plant houses heating and air-conditioning equipment and electrical controls for the entire complex. The fourth in the complex is the three-tiered Conservation Building, a structure of glass, steel and concrete that will house the administrative, curatorial and processing staffs of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) and two leading-edge laboratories for the analog and digital preservation of film, sound recordings and video, as well as a theater.
The campus will be largely underground, except for the west front of the Conservation Building, which will curve out from the side of the mountain in a half circle embracing a reflecting pool. In a novel and complex landscaping feat, the top and side of Mount Pony were scraped off the building site and set aside during construction. The earth is being replaced over the tops of the completed buildings, and the mountain slope and surrounding landscape are being replanted with 29 species of upland meadow perennials, 20 bioswale perennials, 14 different grasses and 12 species of trees.
Once the facility is completed next year, at an estimated cost of $150 million underwritten by the Packard Humanities Institute (the largest private gift in the history of the Library), it will be transferred to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC), and then, in accordance with authorizing legislation, it will "be available to the Librarian of Congress for use as a national audiovisual conservation center." (The Architect of the Capitol is charged with the operation and maintenance of the Library's buildings.)
Finished in November 2005, the first part of the facility to be released for use by the AOC was the 50,000-square-foot Central Plant, which was built as a new addition onto the back of the Collections Building. Here, Calvin Gilley, AOC facilities manager, supervises a maintenance and engineering crew under contract with the AOC.
The Collections Building was the second structure to be completed during Phase I of construction, which began in August 2003. Finished in November 2005, and released for Library use in January 2006, the 135,000-square-foot Collections Building occupies the site of a former Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Va., facility, which was built into the side of Mount Pony.
The Collections Building occupies the same basic structure that was built for the Federal Reserve in the 1960s, but the building was completely gutted and then reconfigured and reinforced to accommodate the substantial weight of the Library's collections. Because it is largely underground, this building is energy-efficient and well suited for low-temperature, low-humidity storage, which is ideal for long-term preservation of the Library's motion picture, television and recorded sound collections.
"Large-scale multiple vaults within the Collections Building will enable the Library, for the first time, to stabilize its audiovisual collections in state-of-the-art storage environments with high-density compact shelving configurations specifically designed for all our media formats," said Gregory Lukow, chief of the Library's Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division. "At the same time, the center's digital preservation and archiving systems will enable us to provide off-site back-up storage of digitized collection originals within the Library's secure IT environment."
The Collections Building vaults will have temperatures ranging from 25 degrees F (for color and black-and-white film masters and selected nonmaster color film) to 50 degrees F (for recorded sound collections and magnetic audio and videotapes). Relative humidity for most of the storage vaults will be a constant 35 percent, except for the cold vaults, which will be maintained at 30 percent. Compact shelving, standing 9- to12-feet high, with specially designed cabinets for CDs and other small media, will house most of the collections.
Construction of the 175,000-square-foot Conservation Building, which is the centerpiece of the complex, is well under way. This building will have a state-of-the-art audio-listening facility, which can be used for public programs and exhibits; ample, naturally lighted workspace to support the center's programs and operations; and a 200-seat theater with an organ console for silent movies. A pit was excavated beneath the stage to store the organ, which can be lifted mechanically to stage level for performances. The theater will be made available for public programs.
This Conservation Building and the 55,000-square-foot pods holding nitrate film will be completed during the final, Phase II, of the construction process. The nitrate film collections are currently stored at the Library's Motion Picture Conservation Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, where they are preserved and transferred to safety film.
Unprecedented in size, scope and funding for the Library of Congress, construction of the audiovisual conservation center has been made possible by a three-way public-private partnership of the Packard Humanities Institute (PHI) with the Library and the Architect of the Capitol. PHI took over responsibility for building the NAVCC from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which had provided the original grant to purchase the Culpeper site in 1998 and which transferred the Culpeper assets to PHI in December 1999.
Congress approved this unique arrangement, which the foundation proposed in concert with Library officials in the mid-1990s. Congressional committees with oversight and spending authority for the Library approved the project, and Congress passed special authorizing legislation (PL 105-144) in 1997. Enthusiastic supporters of the project since its inception are representatives from Virginia's 7th Congressional District, which includes Culpeper: first, Rep. Tom Bliley, R-Va., retired, and now, Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va.
Why a National Audiovisual Conservation Center?
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington testified before the Senate Appropriations Legislative Branch Subcommittee in 2003 that the National Audiovisual Conservation Center would allow MBRS to consolidate and integrate most of its activities into one central facility. Although users will continue to access materials in Capitol Hill reading rooms, the Culpeper complex will be the MBRS hub for administration, acquisitions, processing, storage and preservation, including the transfer of analog materials to digital preservation formats.
The Librarian emphasized the importance of consolidating and preserving these collections because "audiovisual materials contain an ever-increasing percentage of the [nation's] historical record."
"When the NAVCC is opened, the Library, for the first time, will be able to consolidate all its collections in a single, centralized storage facility that provides space sufficient to house projected collections growth for 25 years beyond the NAVCC move-in date," Billington said. "The NAVCC film and sound and video preservation laboratories are being designed to increase significantly the number of items preserved for all types of audiovisual formats."
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Deanna Marcum, associate librarian for Library Services, said recently. "It will allow the Library to bring together its audiovisual collections, which are now stored in less-than-ideal conditions in four states and the District of Columbia, in one state-of-the art facility, where they can be stored and preserved in an environment with the most appropriate temperature and humidity and made more easily available to scholars from around the world."
The confluence of a number of factors in the early 1990s made the project feasible, moving it from the drawing board to reality. A 1990 report by consultant David J. Francis laid out the Library's need for an audiovisual center (Francis, who was chief of MBRS from 1991 to 2001, was responsible for bringing to fruition the J. Paul Getty Jr. Conservation Centre in England in 1985, the first film and television conservation center in the world). The Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond's underground facility in Culpeper became available, and it appeared to have ideal conditions for the storage of video and audio materials and was within a reasonable distance of Washington. Most important, the Packard Foundation was interested in film preservation and agreed to back the project financially.
Preservation in the Digital Age
More than a static storage facility for audiovisual artifacts, the center will allow the Library to transform its current MBRS Division into a new organization with a broader mission and a new vision that will enable it to respond to fundamental changes in the industry and continuing developments in the digital transformation of recorded sound, film and video.
A digital preservation and acquisition system is a major component of the new National Audiovisual Conservation Center. This system has been developed with funding support from the preservation component of the Library's Digital Futures program and in continuing collaboration with its Information Technology Services (ITS). The system will help preserve and provide research access to both newly acquired born-digital materials as well as analog legacy formats, such as films and television programs.
"The center will implement digital preservation as a replacement for reformatting onto increasingly obsolete analog formats," Lukow explained. "The change will be evolutionary and sequenced. We have already made the transition to file-based digital preservation of sound. At the time of the opening of the whole facility, we will be making the same transition for the preservation of videotape. Film, because of its vastly greater image resolution and the amount of digital storage it requires, is much more challenging to digitize and manage in a digital environment. Large-scale digital film preservation will occur at the center once the technology matures and costs come down. The facility will also enable the Library to capture and store born-digital audiovisual collections, thereby ensuring their long-term preservation as well."
One of the benefits of expanding the Library's capabilities and capacities at Culpeper is that the innovations, standards and tools developed there can be shared with the wider archival community, according to Lukow. Also, new technologies that are being developed for the center are allowing the Library to rethink and improve a range of models for providing greater access to the collections.
"In keeping with the Library's broader mission as the leader of the national library community, the National Audiovisual Conservation Center will not only preserve the Library's collections, but also it will offer services that will assist in the preservation of audiovisual media held in other libraries and archives throughout the country," Lukow added.
Francis said, "The National Audiovisual Conservation Center will not only be the largest and most sophisticated preservation and storage facility for moving images and recorded sound in the world, but it will also be a center of excellence where scholars, visiting archive professionals and students from graduate courses in moving-image and recorded sound archiving can meet to consider the curatorial, technical and ethical issues associated with audiovisual preservation and access."
Transition and Staff Planning
A detailed "Concept of Operations" for the center was developed in 2003, and a Transition Office, headed by Ruth Scovill, was created in 2004 to plan the complex process of relocating current MBRS operations, systems, staff and collections to Culpeper. Scovill previously was president of Cinesite, Kodak's digital post-production and film restoration facility, and head of technology for DreamWorks Animation Studio.
"Our concentration for the past several years," said Scovill, "has been to create an integrated system within the new conservation center that will allow us to take advantage of existing technologies to streamline and automate our preservation and access processes."
The multiyear staffing plan for the new facility seeks to increase personnel for the new center to approximately 150. This includes current MBRS staff in various locations and the catalogers in Library Services' Special Materials Cataloging Division, Team 3. New positions will be created in program areas dealing with new technologies, the digital lifecycle, new access programs and expanded administrative responsibilities.
Even when the facility at Culpeper is fully operational, reference services for the Library's audiovisual collections will remain in the Recorded Sound and Moving Image reading rooms on Capitol Hill, with reference specialists available there to provide assistance. Digitized sound and videotape collections will be accessed electronically, and film collections will be transported from Culpeper to Capitol Hill on a regular schedule in the near-term.
Outreach to the Culpeper Community
Members of the Culpeper community have been involved in planning for the National Audiovisual Conservation Center from the beginning. Local officials had to grant permissions and permits required for construction, and, more recently, they have been meeting with Library officials to learn more about how the center will work, the impact it will have on their community and how the Library and the community can work together in ways that will be mutually beneficial. Representative Cantor, for example, participated in a large meeting at the Culpeper County Public Library in November 2004, when Marcum and Lukow gave a presentation to community leaders about the center. And the progress of construction at the site has been well covered by the local newspapers.
Partnerships are already being developed with the Culpeper County Public Library, Germanna Community College and the State Theatre Foundation. The Transition Office has established working relationships with local institutions such as banks, restaurants, the Chamber of Commerce, schools, the Virginia Employment Commission and the Department of Tourism.
The Library has supported local business and workforce development, contracting for security and custodial services and hiring six individuals in technical positions.
"The community and the local press have been very supportive of what we are trying to accomplish at Culpeper," said David Albee, a member of the Library's Transition Office. "They recognize the potential benefit of the facility to the area, and I am hopeful that our outreach efforts will result in some meaningful long-term relationships between the center and various local groups and institutions."
The Librarian had a chance to visit the center in February and view the progress of construction; he later met with Culpeper officials, thanked them for their support and assured them of his interest in making sure that the Library of Congress is a good neighbor to the citizens of Culpeper.
The Library is in the third year of its five-year budget plan for the completion of the National Audiovisual Conservation Center, which was first supported by Congress in its fiscal year 2004 budget. To date, Congress has appropriated a total of $52 million to the Library to relocate collections and staff, buy new shelving ($7 million), design and procure equipment for the sound, film and video laboratories, design and furnish interior space and hire new staff. Congress also appropriated more than $17 million to the Architect of the Capitol for acquisition, operations and maintenance.
Billington recently testified before both the House and Senate Appropriations committees to outline needed funding for NAVCC as part of the Library's fiscal 2007 budget request. He noted that he could not say exactly what the final dollar amount of the contribution from the Packard Humanities Institute will be, "but it looks like it will be the largest single private capital contribution to a government building in history." He added that the facility will "reflect the standards that Congress asked the Library to establish some years back for audiovisual conservation."
Helen Dalrymple is a retired Library employee and the former editor of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin.