Behind the Scenes: Collection Management, part 3

Follow along with Mary Pedraza, Archives Apprentice, as she tackles rearranging the special collections storage space at the Library Annex.

April was the last month of my apprenticeship with the Champaign County Historical Archives. And it was a month of wrapping up projects. My biggest contribution was finally moving the most extensive collection in our holdings onto a new set of shelves where it better fits.

Most of our collections are held in half-size or full-size Hollinger boxes. Imagine the traditional banker's box you see depicted in movies whenever someone gets fired. The box they fill with their desk belongings. These are the boxes that archives typically use for holding their material, acid-free, archival quality versions, of course. Our storage shelves are mainly designed to fit these sizes of boxes, height-wise.

Half and full-size Hollinger records storage boxes  Photograph Envelope Boxes

However, the McCandless Photography collection with its 217 boxes is housed mainly in 7 3/4" wide photograph boxes. These boxes are about the same width as a half-Hollinger box, but about half the height and are not designed to fit our standard shelving setup. Ideally, when you have a box that is about half the size in height as the intended boxes, you could stack them two high. Unfortunately, these boxes were just a little bit too tall and thus stacked only one box high on most shelves, leaving ample amounts of wasted space on our shelves.

Traditional archival storage standards advise maximizing space by avoiding leaving empty air on a shelf above a box [1]. This wasted space issue was one of the first I wanted to address in my project, and it turned out to be one of the last I did. The thing is that we could not simply rearrange the boxes on the shelves they were on; instead, they needed to be completely relocated.

To where was the ultimate question. Luckily, Donica Swann, Director of CCHA, pointed me to some bookshelves on the south wall holding duplicate books slated to move from the Library Annex to our additional off-site storage within Lincoln Square Mall. With the books relocated, I was left with an entire section of shelves for McCandless. Over here, I was able to fit these odd size boxes, two high and four across. When I initially did my math, I thought the collection would fit perfectly, with room to spare. Unfortunately, not every shelf in this section was that perfect size; some were shorter and narrower. Thankfully, not all boxes of McCandless were in the 7 3/4" wide photograph boxes. While I planned to fit the boxes in order, I had to get creative with where certain boxes went. I kept all the 7 3/4" wide boxes together, in order, on the shelves. And put the rest where they fit. At times, that is the best you can do.

My project was intended to put the Archives on the right track for their storage organization, and that involved moving the largest collection we have (which made me the most exhausted I have been in a long time, by the way). Now the McCandless Photograph collection is where it fits, and the shelves left empty by this move get to be used by boxes that fit that space. By moving these collections and completing my independent study project, I was able to leave open shelves throughout the Library Annex that future collections will utilize.

- Mary Pedraza
  Archives Apprentice

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[1] Theodore R. Schellenberg, Modern Archives (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pr, 1956).