• Due to renovations to our vault, the majority of our collections are currently inaccessible. Access to collections may be limited until May 2024. Please contact us for more information.

Good news and temporary inconveniences

2/28: Timeline has been updated! A few contracts were delayed, permits were problematic, and so we’re starting and continuing a bit later than intended–and will be limited access for longer than hoped. More details on the current status below.

As is the case for many archives in the 21st century, our vault, where the majority of our collections are housed, is rapidly running out of space. When the addition to the Consortium Library was built in the early 2000s, the intention was always to have compact shelving (aka high density aka movable shelving), which allows for more collections to be packed into the same space. The floor was built to withstand the extra weight of higher density shelving. The budget wasn’t quite ready for it, though, so fixed shelving was installed with the hope that someday funding would appear to pay for compact shelving.

Compact shelving, high density shelving, whatever you call it, it allows us to store more archives in the same amount of space.

Well, we are excited to announce that “someday” has finally arrived! Work is expected to begin on installation of compact shelving at the beginning of September and last until March of next year. While we are thrilled that this is finally happening, it will temporarily affect our ability to provide access to collections and take in donations of material. Most of our collections will be moved to offsite storage and will be inaccessible for the duration of the construction project. What specifically does this mean for our researchers and donors?

For Archives researchers

We have only very limited collections that have remained onsite and accessible.

  • We will continue to answer email and the phone and will do our best to provide access to materials that haven’t moved offsite or to point you toward related materials that may be held by other institutions or can be found online. 
  • Please note that due to the uncertain timing of collection moves and other work that will require the participation of archivists, we may not be able to accommodate all appointment preferences. For example, late February-early May may be problematic. 

For Rare Books researchers

  • The Rare Books collection is staying on-site and will be accessible. Access will be by appointment only. Please contact us to set up appointments. 

For collection donors

The improvements to our vault mean that we will be able to make even more Alaska history available to to researchers. However, during construction, our ability to take in additional materials will be limited. If you have material that you would like to donate, please consult with us. Please be aware that depending on the volume of the materials, we may not be able to take it in before the shelving work is completed. 

For volunteers

We may have only limited capacity to provide space for volunteers to work. If you’re interested in volunteering for us, please get in contact and we’ll be happy to make plans for post-renovation. 

More information about the reno project

It’s actually a little more complicated than just the removal of the existing shelving and addition of the new compact shelving–as complicated as that already is! Over the 20+ years we’ve been in this space, a few design and aging issues have come up that really affect the environmental conditions in the vault space and this project allows us to solve some of those too. For one, we actually have some windows in the vault space. You’ve probably never seen them unless you’ve been wandering the roof of the older section of the library (unless you’re part of our campus Facilities crew it’s unlikely). But light is one of the enemies of archival preservation so we want those to go away. They’ll be filled in with insulation and the walls extended to cover the spaces where the windows currently are. Additionally, the “room envelope” (vapor barrier placed in the walls, paint, etc.) was put in place assuming that the whole building would have a/c and humidity systems functioning in a certain way. That wasn’t a sustainable way to heat and cool the entire library, so it turns out that the environmental envelope isn’t quite as robust as we really need for the space. So the space will be painted over with high end paint that will provide an added degree of protection against external library environmental conditions. The weather-stripping around the doors, while excellent!–is aging and so this is our chance to get new seals around the doors, too. 

What we sincerely hope the move doesn’t look like.
Photo from the Lawrence E. Marx collection.

So the (very) rough and very summarized workplan is this:

  • Move all the collections out (Done!)
  • Dismantle the existing shelving (Done!)
  • Seal up the windows, re-seal the doors, and paint (Underway.)
  • Install the new shelving.
  • Move all the collections back in. 
  • Re-open. 

A lot of the timeline is a moving target (no pun intended). We’re not quite sure how long it will take for the new shelving to arrive. We’re not quite sure how long it will take for the shelving to be installed. And of course, there’s always those things that don’t quite go as planned for whatever reason. What if the floor tiles we need aren’t immediately available? (Arlene better not have just jinxed us there.) We hope that the majority of the work will be done by late February* and chances are, we’ll have a much better idea of the actual timeline as the project starts to progress. We’ll try to keep folks informed–just try and stop us posting pictures of the work on social media!–and if you have any questions about how things are going, we’ll be happy to answer them. 

*So it’s now late February: what’s going on? I’m afraid we received some news on a couple of matters that are currently delaying our occupancy of the space. We specifically have 2 additional projects that have to be completed. The first is additional seismic stabilization of the shelving. This will require drilling bolts through the floor below and bolting those to plates that will be sitting against the second floor ceiling. Since the library materials on the second floor cannot be moved, the people doing this work will be working around the existing shelves to reach the ceiling. Since this will also be exceedingly noisy, dusty, and disruptive, we’re currently asking that the work be done overnight so as to affect our students as little as possible. The plan has not quite been finalized and approved by the Municipality of Anchorage as of right now, so we’re not sure how long it will take. The second issue is the fire safety system. Our vault has what is called a pre-action system. Basically the water that runs through the sprinkler heads runs through quite a complicated device attached to all the fire sensors in the space, and water does not actually pass into the pipes until such point as a fire emergency is happening. While this is great on a daily basis–no inadvertent sprinkler head or pipe leaks!–it does mean that modifications to that system are really complicated. And as it turns out, the sprinkler system needs to be redone to have an increased flow in the space because of the high density shelving (also because codes have changed since the building was constructed in 2002). The plan to address this is being created and then will be submitted to the Municipality of Anchorage for approval. Once that approval has been received, the additional supplies and construction will be contracted and the work completed. Once both of these projects are completed, we can start the move of collections back into the space. 

And what will we be doing in the meantime?

Well, we’re keeping some collection boxes back for us to work on too. We’re going to be creating metadata for some of our digitized materials so we can add them to the Alaska’s Digital Archives and to create some more online exhibits. We’re going to be cleaning up our digital storage (our preservation storage is pretty clean but there’s always room for improvement in our internal documentation), and continuing responding to the daily emails and phone calls we get about collections. And since we’ve been so busy the past few months getting ready for the project, it’s quite possible that a few long-overdue vacations may be taken during the “slow months” (which probably aren’t going to be slow at all.) Even without much access to collections, there will be plenty to keep us occupied! 

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