New in the Archives: December 2018

December was a fairly eventful month for us. November went out with a bang (a real one, a 7.0 earthquake with an epicenter very near Anchorage) and so our regular workload for early December was rewritten by needing to deal with the aftermath of the effects of shaking on a building and shelving units. Gwen and Veronica managed to clean up the over 130 boxes that landed on the floor of our archives vault (or on each other, really) in just about 8 hours of work. Arlene picked up the oversize books in Rare and Susan Klein, a local librarian, came in and helped us out by picking up the APU theses that had fallen and getting all of them in call number order and boxed for storage in the vault. Thanks Susan! We also did a few days of book and journal pickup in the other sections of the library too. We did a recap of our experiences with the quake in our December podcast and took a look at how compact shelving might have helped us have a different outcome in our blog. Thankfully none of the many aftershocks have caused any additional damage to collections or the facility, though we all seem to be a bit jumpy about some of the larger ones.

Processing:

Here’s the collections and additions to collections that we described and prepared for access this month:

EPH-0416: Order of the Walrus certificate and pin; circa 1960-1969. 0.01 cubic feet.

HMC-1300: Craig Mishler papers; 1943-2015, bulk 1988-1998. 3 cubic feet. Papers from a folklorist and anthropologist.

HMC-1309: Chickaloon Coal Company records; 1910-1922, bulk 1917-1919. Documents regarding company operations.

HMC-1180: Walter Parker papers; circa 1940-2014. 6.1 GB Digital versions of documents that due to fire damage could not be saved.

HMC-0059: Clarence Leroy Andrews papers; 1892-1946, addition of 0.75 cubic feet, glass lantern slides.

Events:

We  hosted the poster session for Dr. Jennifer Stone’s History of the English Language course final. It’s always such a treat to see the use students are making of archival sources! Here’s a few photos of some of the projects and if you’re interested in learning more about how this topic can connect with archival sources, Gwen interviewed Dr. Stone for our podcast in November.

Alaska’s Digital Archives

Technically it was in November that the Alaska’s Digital Archives was moved to a new hosting platform, but it was December when we finally got the access to the administration of the site and could start updating items and adding more. It’s not the prettiest looking thing at the moment and there’s a few bits of customization that we’d gotten used to that are no longer available, but overall there are a lot of benefits to this change, especially once we get some work done on how the site looks. For starters, the site is now a responsive design which means that for folks working on mobile devices like smart phones and tablets, they’ll have an easier time viewing the site because it will be resized to fit their screens. One behind the scenes benefit, which you might not be aware of, is the substantial costs savings and access to software upgrades. Due to how we’d been running the site, we no longer had access to software support which meant that a lot of software upgrades and bug fixes–like that responsive design–were not available to us. On the cost side, while each partner still absorbs the cost of digitizing, cataloging, uploading, and updating each individual item in the Digital Archives, our joint costs for software and server support and administration have been cut by well over half: from about $65,000 per year to just under $30,000 for the next year and we expect it to decrease even more in following years. That’s a huge cost savings to the three partners that pay for site maintenance (Alaska State Library, UAA/APU Consortium Library, and UAF Rasmuson Library) and will hopefully mean that sustaining partnerships will become more financially viable for some of our current partners who have been participating on a smaller level with limited term project partnerships. If you’ve been using the site in past and can’t find some functionality that you used to have, will you let us know? We’ll see if we can figure out if it can be re-established or if not, if there’s a different way of doing the same thing.

In the meantime, we’ve started working again to upload more items to the Digital Archives. For December, that was 14 additional images from the Clarence Leroy Andrews papers.

That’s it for December and 2018 too. We’re looking forward to another productive year but hope that won’t include any new substantial earthquake responses! We wish you all the best for 2019.

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Back to partial operation

We’re back open to our normal hours on Wednesday, December 5. (With a few exceptions upcoming. See our main website page for details on those.)

But we’re not quite cleaned up from the earthquake quite yet. Here’s our current status:

Most archival collections are available for use but because the majority of the boxes that deshelved themselves during the quake are in the aisle that has our most frequently used collections, we may not be able to provide access to all collections immediately. Many collections in that aisle stayed in place, but since the floor is covered in boxes and documents, we are unable to reach them. We ask that if you are planning to come to the Archives to do research, contact us in advance of your visit to see if the materials you need will be accessible for your visit. We thank you for your patience as we start to clean up those boxes that did not stay shelved: getting this fixed and reshelved is a priority for us at this time.

The Rare Books room has similar issues. While the small and regular sized Rare Books are on compact shelving and did just fine through the quake, many of the oversize Rare and the APU masters theses are no longer on shelves. They do not seem to have suffered any damage but because we don’t want to cause more damage to them by wading through them to get to the ones still on shelves, access to these items may be delayed for awhile. Like with the archival collections, please contact us in advance of a visit to make sure the volume you want will be accessible to you.

Our research room is just fine, our offices less so, but we’re ready to resume access!

Thanks to all of you who have reached out to volunteer to help us clean. Unfortunately because the clean-up needs to happen in spaces that are not public spaces, we are unable to accommodate volunteers who are not currently employees of the Consortium Library. While it’s probably pretty safe, we just can’t take any chances that any of you might get hurt while dealing with these materials. Our Risk Management types would never forgive us and more importantly, we’d never forgive ourselves either.

We thank you for your patience and support as we continue on with clean-up. Here’s to some sunny days and lessening aftershocks. May you keep safe and happy and warm.

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Why I want compact shelving

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.

The first aisle of the Rare Books collection compact shelving

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 first row of our archives collections vault post-earthquake

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!

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