Recently I’ve been having archives-related nightmares. Not of fire, or floods (truly the most terrifying scenario for any archives), but rather of misplaced boxes, forgotten tasks, and unwritten emails. These are minor issues, to be sure, but they wake me up in the middle of the night in a panic. While the morning brings the comforting knowledge that it was all a dream (and I really did label that box or house that pastel), the major stressor remains.
We’re moving our entire archives to a new facility this summer, and the preparations for that move have consumed my waking (and occasionally non-waking) hours. I’m intimately involved in most aspects of the move, but I’ve especially been concentrating on what needs to happen to each box or item before it can be safely transported. This process started with a collection survey last June, where I completed a shelf reading of the entire collection and noted obvious, surface issues in a spreadsheet. The main problems fell into the following four categories: item needs to be boxed, box needs to be entered into the database, box needs database label, and box needs content label. From there I categorized the tasks as “pre-move” or “post-move.” I knew were never going to accomplish it all before the move, or even in the next year, so it was extremely important for us to understand our priorities and manage expectations for what we could feasibly accomplish. Though features like content labels are extremely helpful and satisfying to look at, they are not as crucial when moving as accurate records and clear database number labels. Thus the task of properly labeling box contents was shifted to the “post-move” column. I also ranked the actions needed for each box from 1 (easy) to 3 (hard), so that we could easily see the level and skill involved in readying that particular item to move. The end result was a fairly complicated move prep document that presented the department with item-level actions, as well as an overview of the state of the collection.
Armed with this task list, I’ve spent the past few months slowly chipping away at the action items by creating database records for boxes, finding homes for loose materials, and housing pastels. As the move date loomed closer we were able to hire temporary archives technicians who are dedicated solely to move prep. Thus I have now transitioned from completing action items to identifying projects and explaining them to our archives technicians, such as rolling oversized banners and creating records for hardware boxes. I’ve also started collaborating with coworkers on higher-level move projects, such as determining how to number our shelves and meeting with our move vendor to figure out the logistics of how we will move our thousands of boxes and objects into a brand new space.
The most exciting part of our move prep work, besides for the joy of slowly seeing our collection become more and more accessible, is watching the development of our new archives space. Conversations about its design began a few years ago, but actual construction began in October after a lease had been secured and building plans finalized. We’re taking a warehouse and outfitting it to serve as an appropriate home for our materials, from adding an HVAC system and multiple fire suppression options to building compact mobile shelving to maximize our use of the space. While our current archives features fixed shelving, we’re transitioning to mobile shelving in our new facility and figuring out what that means for our collections. We’re sad to lose the ability to easily browse our materials just by walking down the aisles, but we’re very excited to have more room to grow. The shelving switch also provides a great impetus to make sure our data is accurate and up-to-date so that our databases can be reliable initial access points for the collection. Watching the walls go up and shelving be installed has been very exciting, and such a great reminder that our move is very real.
While the physical month-long move of our materials won’t happen for another few months, we’re in the middle of our busiest season ever as we hurriedly—but carefully—box the remaining items, shift parts of the collection to make our move efficient, and shelf read to ensure that our data is correct. I’m looking forward to the nights when the move no longer haunts my dreams, but for now I’m checking one item off the to-do list at a time.