Love in the Time of the Library Move

May 12, 2020

By Dana Miller

In June 2019, the Oregon Historical Society Research Library staff began preparing to move all its holdings for a major renovation taking place in the downtown reading room. Here the move captains pose during the last day of preparations. From left to right are Reference Librarian Elerina Aldamar, Move Coordinator Rebecca Gilbert, Collections Management Librarian Dana Miller, Digital Services Librarian Laura Cray (seated), Technical Services Librarian Katie Mayer, Digital Collections Manager Mathieu Deschaine, and Archivist Jeffrey Hayes.

I write this blog post from the safety of my couch, in an unexpected historic moment that has come to live with us all and is taking up the majority of space in our lives whether we want it to or not. The Oregon Historical Society (OHS) has now been closed for over a month, and I am among those fortunate enough within our community to be able to work from home. Library staff in particular have been able to adjust their projects, finding productive ways to work with collections remotely. This change has come at a time when the library was already adjusting to a very different “new normal” while preparing for a long-needed library renovation of our downtown reading room.

In early March, we had just finished moving the entirety of our downtown library collections to our offsite storage, reopening there for research appointments for just a few short days before OHS closed to the public on March 14. Though we did not know it, the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic loomed behind our every step. We had only the briefest moment to look around and say to each other “Okay, what’s next?” before both buildings were shuttered temporarily to staff.

Reference Librarian Scott Daniels reshelves books at the Oregon Historical Society’s offsite storage.
Reference Librarian Scott Daniels reshelves books at the Oregon Historical Society’s offsite storage.
Map drawers arrive at the Oregon Historical Society’s offsite storage facility.
Map drawers from the downtown stacks arrive at OHS’s offsite storage facility.

Anyone who has moved knows it is an ordeal, packing boxes of stuff and finding new places for it all involves mountains of work. Moving thousands and thousands of library items requires intense planning and tracking; moving an archive is even more complicated, because so much of the material is unique, fragile, and irreplaceable. Managing the transportation and protection of the oldest and largest collection of historical materials related to Oregon’s history anywhere would eventually fall to me, and the weight of the responsibility was real. I’m in my early forties and I remember recalling Danny Glover’s famous line from the first Lethal Weapon movie: “I’m too old for this….” Well, you know what I was thinking.

In the year leading up to the move, donors responded to OHS’s Forward campaign fundraising with an outpouring of love and support, plans and drawings emerged from architects and contractors, and deadlines and final decisions slowly came into focus. From a tall ladder I looked out over all the full shelves at our offsite storage facility, wondering how we’d ever fit everything from downtown into the space. Doubts aside, in June 2019, we hired temporary move staff, a part-time move coordinator and a move assistant who spent the summer counting and recording shelf locations for everything downtown and boxing up materials.

Dana Miller, Laura Cray, and Amy Platt shelve books from the main stacks at the offsite storage facility.
Dana Miller, Laura Cray, and Amy Platt shelve books from the main stacks at the offsite storage facility.
Rebecca Gilbert packs maps at OHS’s downtown reading room in preparation for the library’s move.
Rebecca Gilbert packs maps at OHS’s downtown reading room in preparation for the library’s move.

In September, with just six months to go before the renovation was scheduled to begin, I began to work with the move duo directly in a headlong battle against the clock. I exchanged my cardigan for a pair of overalls and wore them every day. We donned work gloves, drove pallet jacks, and shifted or palletized over 2,000 record cartons, boxes, and volumes. Together we worked for weeks to condense and clear hundreds of existing storage shelves and to map downtown shelving locations to new ones at the offsite storage facility.

A short early phase of the move rolled around in November, and I arranged for teams of library staff to be move captains at each location to help load book trucks, guide the movers in their work, and track each delivery truck and its contents. We learned a lot during that week, which helped us better plan the main part of the move to come in February. The final two months of move preparation is a blur, and it was all hands on deck for the library, with lots of assistance from facilities staff at both locations. OHS bought and installed hundreds of new shelves at our offisite storage facility as well as additional map drawer cabinets; we spent weeks integrating downtown serial publications with their offsite counterparts; the move coordinator and library director worked to finalize the relocation plan for staff offices; and other library staff performed final preparations of downtown collections while I hand-delivered especially fragile materials to the offsite storage facility.  There were also a lot of holidays (and rainy days) in there as well.

Jake Hutchins, Move Assistant, wraps a fragile rare book before it is moved.
Jake Hutchins, Move Assistant, wraps a fragile rare book before it is moved.
Laura Cray and Elerina Aldamar shelve rare books on new shelving installed at OHS’s offsite storage facility.
Laura Cray and Elerina Aldamar shelve rare books on new shelving installed at OHS’s offsite storage facility.

In February, movers worked for ten days with mercenary efficiency to transfer the bulk of our collections from downtown, with the library staff shouldering an astonishing amount of the work themselves. The move was true team effort: our main cataloger and head of digital collections toiled for over a week in the vault downtown putting rare books and manuscripts on carts, our accession archivist and move assistant prepped those hundreds of carts, and the digital and reference archivists shelved them when they arrived at offsite storage. Our library director listed the contents of each truck that left downtown, while the move coordinator and I met those trucks on the dock and ran carts up and down the storage facility ramps for days on end. OHS’s film archivist, who had no new film collections come over from downtown, shelved thousands of boxes almost by himself. In the storage facility work room everyone helped shimmy a desk here or scoot a file cabinet there, to make sure everyone on staff would have a decent work space in our temporary home.

In the end, during the move (not counting what was done by the movers) we reshelved and refiled with our own hands:

  • 400 linear feet of rare books
  • 3,000 linear feet of serial publications and newspapers (almost 2,000 titles)
  • 1,000 linear feet of main stacks books & biographies (20,000 books!)
  • 18 photo and vertical file cabinets and contents (nearly 9,000 folders)
  • 150 flat file drawers of maps (a small portion of the total holdings)
  • 4,000 linear feet (over 10,000 boxes) of manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, and more
  • Plus collections in cabinets, and several desks, bookshelves, computers, file cabinets, artwork, and everything that makes up the temporary office spaces at the offsite storage facility.
Katie Mayer is still smiling after several days of loading rare books on carts.
Katie Mayer is still smiling after several days of loading rare books on carts.

Coming back to the title of my blog post, this is what I mean by love. The library collections move was my big project to succeed or fail, but every member of the OHS Research Library staff gave their all, every day, to help each other and to get it done. They brought their best and put the common goal ahead of their own comfort, showing undeniable love for what they do and a sense of duty for the organization and the research mission we support. I will always feel grateful to have been present to guide this important event in the life of this library, and for witnessing the incredible teamwork that emerged as an act of love. This is the spirit we need to make it through the days and weeks ahead, and I hope we will maintain it. Looking at these photos makes me both cry and laugh. What a time we had just a short while ago. I miss it in a way I never expected.

OHS Reference Librarian Scott Daniels and Reference Archivist Elerina Aldamar pack vertical files into bins at OHS’s downtown research library.

OHS Reference Librarian Scott Daniels and Reference Archivist Elerina Aldamar pack vertical files into bins at OHS’s downtown research library.

Elerina Aldamar moves bins full of vertical files once located in the downtown research library in preparation for transporting to offsite storage.

Elerina Aldamar moves bins full of vertical files once located in the downtown research library in preparation for transporting to offsite storage.

OHS Archivist Jeffrey Hayes and Move Assistant Jake Hutchins line book carts with ethafoam to prepare them to transport rare books to the offsite storage facility.

OHS Archivist Jeffrey Hayes and Move Assistant Jake Hutchins line book carts with ethafoam to prepare them to transport rare books to the offsite storage facility.

Digital Collections Manager is a digital archives wiz, and it turns out he can also pick a lock if he has to.

Digital Collections Manager is a digital archives wiz, and it turns out he can also pick a lock if he has to.

Jeffrey Hayes vacuums the mover’s book carts before filling them with library materials.

Jeffrey Hayes vacuums the mover’s book carts before filling them with library materials.

Move Coordinator Rebecca Gilbert and Facilities Manager Saul Valdez deconstruct a bookcase in preparation for moving it from the downtown reading room to offsite storage.

Move Coordinator Rebecca Gilbert and Facilities Manager Saul Valdez deconstruct a bookcase in preparation for moving it from the downtown reading room to offsite storage.

The main stacks in OHS’s downtown research library stand empty after the move team packed up all of their contents.

The main stacks in OHS’s downtown research library stand empty after the move team packed up all of their contents.

This is a view of the downtown reading room that many will be surprised to see. The main stacks are emptied and deconstructed in preparation for the renovation.

This is a view of the downtown reading room that many will be surprised to see. The main stacks are emptied and deconstructed in preparation for the renovation.

Moving carts full of OHS Research Library archival materials arrive at the offsite storage facility and await unpacking and re-shelving.

Moving carts full of OHS Research Library archival materials arrive at the offsite storage facility and await unpacking and re-shelving.

Warehouse Coordinator Janet Wisdom and Collections Management Librarian Dana Miller install a new map drawer cabinet at the offsite storage facility.

Warehouse Coordinator Janet Wisdom and Collections Management Librarian Dana Miller install a new map drawer cabinet at the offsite storage facility.

Digital Services Librarian Laura Cray rests while installing large shelving units that took five people to put in place.

Digital Services Librarian Laura Cray rests while installing large shelving units that took five people to put in place.

Film Preservationist Michele Kribs removes plastic wrapping from book carts in the offsite storage facility so they can be re-shelved in their new temporary location.

Film Preservationist Michele Kribs removes plastic wrapping from book carts in the offsite storage facility so they can be re-shelved in their new temporary location.

Moving carts full of photograph collections are lined up before re-shelving at the offsite storage facility.

Moving carts full of photograph collections are lined up before re-shelving at the offsite storage facility.

Books from the main stacks at the downtown research library are re-shelved on new shelving at the offsite storage facility.

Books from the main stacks at the downtown research library are re-shelved on new shelving at the offsite storage facility.

The legendary glare of Mrs. George Loy has launched a thousand library projects, so we made it into a button for motivation.

The legendary glare of Mrs. George Loy has launched a thousand library projects, so we made it into a button for motivation.

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