By GAIL FINEBERG
Two additional storage-and-preservation facilities under construction at Ft. Meade, Md., will add centuries to the life of the Library's special materials—maps, music, manuscripts, microfilm, prints and photographs.
Construction of high-density-storage Modules 3 and 4 began in October 2006 and is scheduled for completion in December 2008.
Designed to relieve the overcrowding of special materials on Capitol Hill and to preserve millions of these historical items in a cool, dry environment, the new modules also will provide space for a collections-processing area, four cold-storage rooms, an administration area and mechanical equipment.
Wearing hard hats and overcoats against a brisk breeze, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, Architect of the Capitol (AOC) Alan M. Hantman and other dignitaries wielded shovels full of dirt at the construction site on Jan. 25 to commemorate the start of this building project. This is phase three of a comprehensive plan to build 13 modules on the 100-acre site located within the secure perimeters of the Army base northeast of Washington, D.C.
"These new modules will help ensure the future of the Library of Congress as the nation's premiere repository in which knowledge and human creativity are preserved and celebrated to inspire generations yet to come," Billington said. "As information continues to grow exponentially, the Library of Congress is determined to meet the challenges of making it accessible to benefit our democracy, our country and our world."
"This project is an exciting one as it builds essential space to preserve and protect America's treasures and historical documents," Hantman said. "The AOC is pleased to execute this important project on behalf of the Library of Congress. We greatly appreciate the sustained partnership and remarkable collaboration between the AOC and the Library that are essential for constructing such a facility."
Billington noted that the Library, in its efforts to preserve and provide access to its collections, depends "more and more on teamwork and collaboration among government agencies," often in concert with the private sector. This project involves not only the Library and the Architect of the Capitol but also the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for hiring and overseeing construction contractors; the architectural firm of Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture and Engineering, P.C.; and John C. Grimberg Co. Inc., the general contractor.
The Librarian also thanked Congress, which in 1993 passed a law transferring the 100-acre Ft. Meade site from the Department of Defense to the Architect of the Capitol for these ancillary Library facilities—"the first new buildings in a quarter of a century."
In subsequent years, Congress provided construction funds in AOC budgets for Module 1, completed in 2002; for Module 2, completed in 2005; and, in the 2006 budget, funds to build Modules 3 and 4, to be finished in two years.
"No other government has preserved as much of the world's knowledge as America," the Librarian said, alluding to the Library's international collections.
He also noted Congress's foresight in passing the 1870 copyright law, ensuring that the Library would receive two copies of all copyrighted items and that "the mint record of creativity of the American people [would] be preserved" at the Library.
Both the Librarian and Steven J. Herman, chief of the Collections Access, Loan and Management (CALM) Division, described the attributes of Modules 1 and 2, features of Modules 3 and 4, and prospects for Module 5 and other additions.
With these facilities filling nearly as fast as they are constructed, the Library is hard-pressed to keep pace with acquisitions of 10,000 new items every year.
Preserving the Collections
Herman said the availability of building space at Ft. Meade "gave us the opportunity to construct storage space to our specifications."
One requirement was proximity to Capitol Hill, so collections could be transferred easily to storage and then served quickly to researchers making requests in Capitol Hill reading rooms. (Ft. Meade security precludes public access to the Library's facilities there.)
Another requirement was the ability to store the Library's collections in the best possible year-round environment for paper-based materials, which Library preservationists determined is a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 percent relative humidity.
All Ft. Meade storage modules will feature these optimum conditions for paper-based collections.
"These conditions extend the lifetime of a paper product by six times, from about 40 years on Capitol Hill to 240 years at Ft. Meade," Herman said, leading a tour of the first two completed modules.
Even colder temperatures will add years to the life of film-based media. Modules 3 and 4 will include four cold rooms (three at 35 degrees Fahrenheit and one at 25 degrees Fahrenheit), which will protect and preserve between 400,000 and 500,000 microfilm masters as well as photographs and other items in danger of deteriorating in warmer surroundings.
Cooling and humidifying systems are housed in separate mechanical rooms to protect items from possible leaks.
A water-pumping station constructed on the site during phase two of the project and sprinkler systems with heads placed every few feet in the stacks provide fire protection.
Another preservation medium is sodium vapor lighting inside the storage area, which eliminates harmful ultraviolet rays.
Before going into the Ft. Meade stacks for the rest of their lives, items receive special preservation treatment. All books are cleaned (vacuumed in specially designed vacuum tables). To help protect against dust, light and water damage, books are stored in lidded boxes. Maps, manuscripts and other special paper items are placed inside acid-free enclosures (envelopes and folders) before they are put in the boxes or cartons, which also keep out dust. Modules 3 and 4 will include a new isolation room in which new acquisitions received directly at Ft. Meade will be quarantined until they are determined to be insect-free.
Modules 1 and 2 were designed to store and preserve books and bound periodicals in as little space as possible. To maximize space, Herman said, the Library followed a Harvard University model for shelving books, not by intellectual content but by size. Herman explained how books all the same height are packed together in boxes. All boxes of the same height (there are 10 different heights) are placed together in double rows on 36-inch-deep shelves that tower several stories high.
Shelving in Modules 3 and 4 will follow the same concept, except that shelves will be designed to house customized containers of various special formats, including tridimensional objects, as well as large boxes and cartons containing flat files. In addition, each shelving unit in Modules 3 and 4 will have map cases up to five feet high.
Module 1, with 8,500 square feet of space, was filled to capacity with 1.6 million books from the Library's general collections within two years of its 2002 opening.
Module 2, which opened in adjoining space on May 23, 2005, has more than 12,000 square feet of space and an estimated capacity for 2.2 million books. It is being filled at the rate of 3,000 books a day, mostly from the general, Law and Area Studies collections. Some items from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division are going into Module 2.
As of Jan. 23, 2007, 487,679 books had been transferred from Capitol Hill to Module 2, which is expected to be filled sometime in the spring of 2009. Although the Library's collections of books and bound periodicals grow by a net of some 300,000 volumes every year, no additional book storage space will be available at Ft. Meade when Module 2 is filled. The comprehensive plan calls for construction of book-storage Module 5, but budgetary prospects beyond Modules 3 and 4 are uncertain, which, Herman said, would result in the Library having to search for interim book-storage space.
Modules 3 and 4, each with 12,500 square feet, will house many different special-format collections, including more than 10 million manuscripts; 2.3 million prints, drawings, photographs and posters; 2.1 million music sheets; 340,000 maps; and 1.1 million items from the American Folklife collections.
The four cold rooms to be built as part of Modules 3 and 4 will house 6.5 million negatives, transparencies and color prints, as well as some 500,000 reels of microfilm.
Herman noted that all available space already has been allocated in Modules 3 and 4. "As managers understand how favorable conditions are out here, and how successful we are at retrieving materials, they want their collections moved to Ft. Meade," he said.
100 Percent Retrieval Rate
Finding materials at Ft. Meade has not been a problem, Herman said, proudly noting a 100 percent success rate in filling 41,752 requests since the first module opened on Nov. 18, 2002.
Every book going to Ft. Meade is assigned a barcode that links to a barcode on its box that links to a barcode on the shelf. All these data are stored in a CALM database, which also shows the specific location of a box on a shelf to aid technicians retrieving materials. The common element between the Ft. Meade tracking database and the Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC) is the item barcode. Every item transferred to Ft. Meade goes through the Baseline Inventory Program to ensure that the bibliographic and item records are correct and that each item has a barcode.
A similar system will track manuscripts, maps, music sheets and other items, although the method will vary according to the type of material. For example, a machine-readable inventory will identify maps housed together in a folder, and a barcode number will link each folder to a specific map case and drawer, Herman said.
Manuscript containers will be barcoded and linked to a shelf. Retrieval through the database will be by the box barcode number, which will tell which shelf the box is on and the position of the box on that shelf, Herman said. Machine-readable finding aids will describe box content. Grouping a division's special-format materials together in the same area also will speed retrieval.
Modules 3 and 4 will include a work area in which staff can prepare new special-format acquisitions for storage without having to transport them from Capitol Hill to Ft. Meade
Herman said the Ft. Meade crew of four and the on-site facility manager, Gary Capriotti, can fill Capitol Hill requests within 12 business hours. An item requested in the morning can be delivered to Capitol Hill in the afternoon. An item requested in the afternoon can be delivered the next morning.
"Ft. Meade facilities are essential for the Library in the 21st century," Billington said. "They alleviate crowding on Capitol Hill, where space is at a premium, and preserve our collections for future generations."
Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newsletter.