RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage
In the summer of 2017, the Marian Library—a special library devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary within the larger University of Dayton Libraries system—completed a move of its rare book and archival collections into a new space within the main library building. The space, previously leased to the Society of Mary provincial archives, was already outfitted with a Liebert system for temperature and humidity controls, as well as shelving and some furniture.
Prior to the move, the rare book collection and archival holdings were stored in less than ideal conditions. In 2014, a consultant from Lyrasis conducted a preservation assessment that confirmed much of what we already knew: the space had wildly fluctuating temperature and humidity levels, which were causing damage to the collections. Most of the shelves were filled to capacity, an issue that challenged our ability to expand our holdings. Finally, the physical layout of the stacks room, with multiple entry points from the public areas of the library, made it difficult to secure the materials effectively.
The Marian Library has approximately 12,000 rare books and 1,300 linear feet of manuscript collections. The rare book collection includes medieval manuscripts and incunabula, as well as theological and devotional material from around the world; one area of strength, for example, is early Mexican imprints on the topic of the Virgin Mary. The archival collections include personal papers; institutional records; collections of postcards, holy cards, and photographs; and realia such as rosaries, scapulars, and medals. The relatively small size of the collection made it possible to undertake the move with library personnel, something that would not be an option for a larger collection (for comparison, consider recent collection moves at the Bancroft Library and the Beinecke Library).
The planning process for the move took several months, starting in spring 2016. The move itself was delayed by some of the surprises of the process—it took significantly longer than anticipated for some work to be completed by the facilities department and their external contractors—but the time of the delay was filled with work on an inventory and preparatory work in the new space. The rare book move was completed in spring 2017, with the archives move completed in summer 2017. All of this work was completed in addition to the regular duties of library personnel; it was typically done in short shifts of several hours at a time.
The opportunity to move our most precarious materials into a better-controlled space was welcome. It also came at an advantageous time; in addition to the aforementioned preservation assessment, library staff had recently completed revisions to the library’s disaster plan and collection development policy that helped frame decision-making throughout the move process. Having recently worked on these documents put library personnel in a frame of mind to consider collection care as part of the workflow for a collection move. Knowing just how overdue the collection was for improved conditions prompted prioritization of processes (such as an inventory and a basic conservation assessment) that elongated the timeline but also made the move more successful.
Moving special collections is a challenge under any circumstances, and our move was not without difficulty. However, we found that a large-scale collections move was more than just a series of obstacles to overcome; it was an opportunity for the library to improve physical space, stakeholder relationships, library practices, and the condition of the collections.
© 2017 by Colleen Hoelscher and Sarah Burke Cahalan
Association of College and Research Libraries
Colleen Hoelscher and Sarah Burke Cahalan (2017).
Rethinking Special Collections Moves as Opportunities, not Obstacles. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage.
18 (2), 123-132