Moving Knowledge

What does it take to move the college’s rare books and archival collections, valued at many millions of dollars? Expertise, diligence, and even a little sleuthing.

Imagine moving the double elephant folio of Audubon’s Birds of America—nearly too big for one person to carry—or Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio. A couple of times during the April move, Diane Pikul, project manager of National Library Relocations, signaled Chapin’s assistant librarian Wayne Hammond. They got a security officer and drove the books (one at a time) to the new library in Pikul’s car. “No one knew when this would happen,” Hammond says, thus ensuring that no one could intercept them on the road.

Most of the collections, however, were transported by truck. The truck was loaded up five or six times a day under the supervision of both Archives and Chapin staff and college security. It was locked and sealed before it made the quarter mile drive from the Southworth Schoolhouse—where Archives and Chapin have been housed temporarily since 2008—to the new library.

There, another member of the library staff as well as security officers would be waiting. Once the list of items in the truck was reviewed, the truck was unsealed and unlocked, and the boxes finally unloaded. Library staff and security made sure the construction workers—still finishing some parts of the library—didn’t cross the movers’ pathways or enter any of the rooms through which the collections were passing.

Chapin Archives MoveAnd then there was clean up. Records manager and digital resources archivist Jessika Drmacich was on trash duty during the three-week move. “I looked inside every trash bag before it left for the dumpster,” she says, “to make sure nothing was accidentally thrown away.” The pile of bubble wrap and packaging she searched grew with each truckload, at one point taking up a space larger than her office.

The move was similar in 2008, when Chapin and Archives moved out of Stetson and into their temporary quarters. But back then, some collections were stored at the Library Shelving Facility (LSF), the college libraries’ permanent storage spot. Collections in frequent use—and which could fit—moved into Southworth. Still other collections were split up, with parts going to LSF and parts to Southworth. And to complicate things further, in the last six years, both Chapin and Archives have added to their collections. “Reintegrating has been quite a challenge,” Hammond says.

In part, that’s because each collection is treated and organized differently. Rare books don’t have call numbers listed on their spines. Instead, they have acid-free bookmarks indicating where they belong. The bookmarks were tucked down during the move, and brought back up to re-shelve the books. Some of those books were then organized by the Library of Congress system, but others were put in alphabetical order. And some, including a large collection of early American cookbooks, were organized chronologically. Some collections even required their own method of classification. “Our exhaustive T. S. Eliot collection is organized according to numbers and letters assigned to each item by the noted Yale bibliographer, Donald Gallup,” explains Robert Volz, custodian of the Chapin Library. “Every collection we have is organized by some such system designed to fit its special contents.”

After the move, Pikul gathered the movers together and asked them if they had any idea of the value of the collections they had just transported. “Jaws dropped,” says Volz, when the full figure was disclosed, pointing out that, as a security measure, the value of the collections was kept a secret until the move was completed.