This may sound like a weird topic in the midst of dealing with clean-up after an earthquake, but bear with me here.
There’s a few reasons. We’re nearly at capacity for physical collections, our vault is about 85-90% full. We’ve been doing a lot of rehousing of collections and moving them during the past few years to make as much space as possible, but we’ve been filling in just as much space as we’ve been gaining. And there’s only so much more of the rehousing we can do. Yes, lots of collections are coming in electronic form these days, but we’re still getting plenty of hard copy, too. Converting our collections storage space to compact shelving would take us from our current capacity of about 9100 cubic feet to about 13,000-14,000 cubic feet. As you can see, that’s a pretty large gain in capacity. That’s reason #1.
Reason #2 became abundantly clear after this earthquake. We have a compact shelving unit in our Rare Books. When the quake hit, the first row was open. That’s the row closest to the wall. As you can see from this photo, only a very few books hit the floor. (They’re just fine, by the way.)
Even though our standard shelving in the archival collections vault has some basic earthquake bracing, to meet code, the vault does not look like the Rare Books collection. Most of it is fine. But the shelves closest to the wall? They look like this.
The shelving that adjoins the north-south wall of our vault–the same directional orientation as the shelving unit in the Rare Books Room, abutting a wall just like in the Rare Books room–ditched a lot of the boxes that were on the upper shelves. And lots more were left hanging on the edges of shelves.
Not only does compact shelving hold more collections, because of the more robust bracing used with compact shelving units and the cushioning between the hard floor and the shelving, they are far more earthquake proof than standard archival shelving units.
There’s one giant problem though, and it is the cost. Several years ago we had an estimate on costs and it was running about $600,000. Now, with increased price of steel, shipping, and the fact that we’ll have to move and temporarily store more collections to have compact shelving installed in the space, the cost will have gone up. That, I don’t have an answer to.
I’m beyond grateful that none of us were in the vault when this happened. I’m grateful that none of the contents of the boxes that came off the shelves seem to have suffered any damage that cannot be dealt with. I’m grateful that when archival materials are kept in boxes, even if they do fall off of shelves, the contents often stay together and in order. We came off very well from a major earthquake with a close epicenter and honestly, picking up one hundred or so boxes seems like a minor price to pay when we think about what could have happened if building codes would have been more lax. We know we have a lot of clean-up ahead of us! We may not be able to provide access to some of these collections immediately, but we will do our very best to keep you informed of our status and work with you to get you access as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience, and thank you, all of you, who have checked in with us and expressed your well-wishes. We really appreciate it!
Update: Here’s our end of December 2018 review of our experiences with the quake on our podcast.