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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Notes from the Special Collections



Moving a library is a daunting task. Moving a library, with collections that are composed of the records of the College from its inception to the recent past; manuscripts, some of which date back three thousand years; and rare books from the early years of printing in the fifteenth century to the present, is cause for sleepless nights and very long days. The planning for the move of Special Collections from Baker Library, where it had been located for dozens of years, to Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall, started at the same time the construction work began on the latter building.

In what is perhaps a very typical library response to any situation or issue, we began the process by examining what had been written about moving rare books, manuscripts, and archives. A search of the literature provided almost nothing in the way of useful articles and monographs. For whatever reason, little has been written about moving collections and even less is current. Many of the essays we found were a number of years old and did not provide usable data.

One of the first decisions that had to be made was quite basic and, at the same time, critical to the remainder of the process. Who would move the collections? There were a number of alternatives, including using Library staff to move all the materials, hiring day laborers to move materials under the management of Library staff, hiring a moving firm to execute the move, and engaging a firm of professional library movers. After weighing the possibilities, we determined that the latter option was best for the safety and security of the collections.

Finding a library mover, and one that is experienced in moving a special collections library, is not as simple as opening a telephone directory to the appropriate section and beginning a series of calls to find one that is available and within budget. There are, of course, specialized directories of service providers that are geared to public, academic, and special libraries. A search of one such directory led us to create a list of a half-dozen library movers with special collections experience and with offices in the northeastern United States. Geography was a factor for us since we felt that a number of site visits would be important both before and after the move. Finally, we posted messages to several electronic bulletin boards, both archival and rare book in focus, asking for responses from any library that had used a mover and was willing to recommend the firm to us. We received very few responses to this request, but those librarians who did respond provided us with useful information.

As a result of the preparatory work, we narrowed our list of movers to three firms and contacted each of them to solicit their interest and to organize interviews in the late summer and early fall of 1997. This early action was necessary as there are very few firms in this specialized field, and all are booked at least a year in advance. All three firms were very interested in the project, and each firm was subjected to a day-long interview as well as reference checking. The final step was to hold a pre-bid meeting with all three firms, the Facilities Planning Office, the Library, and College Purchasing. This latter office is the department responsible for creating bid documents and ensuring that contracts for services adhere to College policies and federal regulations. After the request for proposals was written and distributed to the moving firms, we received bids from each of them and, after examining both the bottom line and the vitally important plan-of-move document, the firm of National Library Relocations, Inc., of Central Islip, New York, was selected as the mover of Special Collections.

Discussions began immediately with the firm and its principal officers to determine precisely what information they needed and when it was required so that we could create the documents and forward the data necessary to provide for a safe and smooth move of materials to our new quarters. Once this timetable was agreed to by the Library and the movers, we began in earnest to plan for the move.

One very evident requirement was knowing the exact status of the collections. While this may appear to be a given, an inventory of a collection, no matter how carefully monitored and shelved, is a difficult and time-consuming project. As a consequence, a complete inventory of the entire holdings of Special Collections had not been done in several decades. Regular inventory of many of the collections had occurred, but not a complete, item-by-item, inventory. The department thus proposed to the Librarian of the College that Special Collections be closed for a period of ten days after the end of fall term 1997 to complete such an inventory.

The results of the inventory were surprising. Monographs that had been mis-shelved for many years were found and reshelved. Cataloging problems were identified and, with the assistance of Collection Services, were rectified. We thus had a benchmark from which to work, an accurate knowledge of our holdings and their condition. This allowed us to plan for the move.

Rather than having the entire department or a single individual bear the responsibility for planning the move, we decided to appoint a team consisting of one staff member from Archives, one from Rare Books, and one from Manuscripts as well as the Collections Technician (who has overall responsibility for the physical integrity of all the collections) to provide the necessary documentation and planning direction. Selfnamed the Rauner Active Movers (RAM), the team was charged with determining the final location of each collection, with documenting activities that needed to be completed before and during the move, and with listing problems that the curators had to resolve prior to the move. The written reports of the RAM team provided critical information and direction for the department.

As a part of the work of the RAM team and the cooperative efforts between the department and the moving firm, a series of documents were created that became the blueprints for the move. These documents were simply the records of where materials were prior to the move and where they needed to be at the end of the move. What sounds to be a simple set of lists, a 'before the move' location register and an 'after the move' location register, was the very complex documentation needed by the moving firm to accomplish their task. Rather than having a name and a location, the RAM team determined that more data would be useful to the movers. Thus, the documentation included a great deal of data on size of containers, number of containers, and other information that was felt might be useful. We learned during the move that this decision was important and that the movers were able to use the data provided to ensure that all materials were moved in the correct order.

During the year between the time we selected the moving firm and the actual move itself, we met with the firm on a regular basis, both to keep them informed of progress on the construction of the building and to ensure that the data we were providing to the firm was what they needed and was complete. This regular communication proved to be very useful to both the Library and the firm. As a result of these meetings, few surprises were in store for either party.

Loading a mobile unit. Photograph by Matthew D. Myers 2002.

One of the issues that had to be resolved prior to the move was whether or not to attempt to remain open while collections were in transit. Although the idea of closing for a significant period of time during the fall term did not appeal to us, we were concerned that both the quality of the service we could provide and the level of security required would be problematic. Thus, after discussion within the department, we proposed to the Librarian of the College that the department close several weeks prior to the move to allow for final arrangements and remain closed until after the move was completed. In retrospect, this was the correct decision.

The department closed on 1 October 1998 and the move began three weeks later. Using shelving units on wheels, National Library Relocations began its work. Lists of where materials were located were collated with floor plans identifying the final destination of every item. Several of the collections, as a result of overcrowding in Baker, had to be interfiled while being moved. All materials were cleaned by the firm as they were being loaded onto the mobile shelving units.

Vaccuming every book before moving. Photograph by Matthew D. Myers 2002.

The move of materials through Baker Library from the old location of Special Collections into the Baker Map Room and into the new stacks, both underground and in Rauner, occupied the entire department as well as the Bibliographic Records Department and the Bibliographic Control Department for more than three weeks. Because the materials were moving through secure areas and were of exceptional value and importance-consider, for example, misplacing the College Charter from 1769-all doorways and every mobile unit was monitored by a member of the Library staff throughout the process. Equipped with cell phones, pagers, and walkie-talkies, the project resembled more a military logistics move than a library in transit.

Materials were also moved to and from the Storage Library. Many of our collections had been in the Storage Library and needed to be returned to the campus. Other materials, including deposits and unprocessed materials, were moved to the Storage Library. This movement of materials required careful planning as well as detailed choreography so that loaded mobile units did not stack up at loading docks and elevators and that every unit was accounted for at all times.

The move was completed by the beginning of December, with the exception of three-dimensional objects that could not be moved until appropriate shelving was installed. The next several weeks were taken up by staff's learning the location of materials in a new venue. Bearing in mind that the collections had been on the same shelves for decades and many of the Special Collections staff could retrieve materials without a second thought, the need to relearn locations and placement was critical.

Rauner Special Collections Library opened to the public on 15 December, some two weeks later than we had planned. This was not a result of the move, but of the need to complete portions of the construction work prior to opening. The 6.5 million manuscripts, 500,000 photographs, and 95,000 rare books were moved successfully. To accomplish this, however, required significant effort including 2,910 staff hours of planning and preparation time, 3,120 staff hours moving materials, and 3,470 hours of National Library Relocation, Inc., time moving materials. The number of items damaged during the move was zero.

Unloading manuscript collection in the Rauner underground stacks. Photograph by Matthew D. Myers 2002.
Empty mobile units on the move. Photograph by Matthew D. Myers 2002.

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DCLB--A99--Notes, 1.2 May 13, 1999 7