8/28: Timeline has been updated! A few contracts were delayed and so we’re starting a bit later than intended–and will be limited access for longer than hoped.
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.
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 will have limited capacity to keep selected boxes on-site for researchers to use during construction.
- If you need to do in-person research in our collections between September 2023 and March 2024, you will need to contact us no later than August 31, 2023 to request materials be held back for you.
- You will be required to book your research appointments when you contact us.
- You will need to know specifically which boxes you would like to look at (we can help you with this).
- Please keep in mind that our on-site storage space is limited and boxes will be held on a first-requested first-served basis and we may have to limit how many boxes we hold back for any one researcher.
- 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, mid-September and late February-early March 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.
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.
So the (very) rough and very summarized workplan is this:
- Move all the collections out.
- Dismantle the existing shelving.
- Seal up the windows, re-seal the doors, and paint.
- Install the new shelving.
- Move all the collections back in.
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 paint we need isn’t immediately available? (Arlene better not have just jinxed us there.) We hope that the majority of the work will be done by mid-January 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.
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!