National Library Relocations

70 Bridge Rd
Islandia, NY 11749


4 Springfield Street
Three Rivers, MA 01080
Transportation Libraries "On the Move"

Many people falsely assume that one library is just like another. Wrong! Just like snowflakes, no two libraries are the same especially when it comes to moving them. Behind each library relocation is a reason and a need for special packing and transport. Whether someone is renovating, building a new facility, re-carpeting or recovering from a disaster, the who, what, when, where and why is critical. 2008 was an extremely interesting year in this regard. While public and academic libraries are frequently "on the move," it seemed like a large number of rare book and special libraries were also in the queue. Two ventures in particular made it difficult to concentrate on the task at hand; the collections were endlessly fascinating and both involved the transportation industry.

On the Steel Rails

Originally housed in the Robert Morris Building in Philadelphia's Center City, the National Railway Historical Society Library found itself in an interesting predicament at the end of 2007. The building, an awesome European Gothic Revival structure built in the early 1900s, was being turned into a luxury hotel. By the end of February 2008, the organization needed to be out of the building. With a membership that covers the globe, it was up to the officers to convene a committee, dispose of furnishings and select an experienced library mover to pack the collections.

As part of the deal, the mover had to have a clean, safe, climate-controlled storage facility. With a wide range of responses to their query, the committee selected a company with a proven track record (pun intended) to handle the materials. Once the project was underway, everyone was amazed at the number of items that had been pressed into the 12th floor space.

At first glance, it looked like any other set of offices...but a closer look revealed much more. Each room in itself held a glimpse into a different era. When put together, all the pieces not only told the saga of the Iron Horse, but also the amelioration of the United States. It is easy to lose oneself in this collection and emerge with a newfound appreciation for those who laid the rails, stoked the fireboxes, delivered telegrams and traversed the Great Plains. In terms of memorabilia and realia, the train lantern and bell attracted the most comments from the move crew it was one heavy bell!

Hundreds of timetables, artistic renderings, maps, slides, photographs, clippings, pamphlets and charts rounded out the standard journal and monograph collection. While it would have been fitting to convey this library to storage via train, the realities of 21st century transportation logistics and cost dictated that it travel by tractor trailer. After three and a half days of concentrated packing, the library was ready to leave its home for new environs.

Just before 8:00a.m. on a crisp, cold Saturday morning, the trucks pulled up to 100 North 17th Street and drivers proudly placed their City of Philadelphia temporary parking permits on the dashboards. Quickly and efficiently the movers emptied the NRHS Offices. In short order, the library was rolling northward up Interstate 95 to where else but the Town of Seven Railroads Palmer, Massachusetts.

Full Steam Ahead!!

No sooner was the National Railway Historical Society Library safely tucked away, than it was time to begin planning for the Mariners' Museum Library relocation. While time was of the essence in the previous instance, this project took a more leisurely approach. The Mariners' Museum was meticulous in their examination of proposals aimed at expanding their library/archive. After much deliberation, it was decided that they would relocate to a renovated portion of Christopher Newport University's Trible Library. This unique collaborative effort on the part of a public and a private institution is definitely one to be closely watched and analyzed by librarians, archivists and administrators of all types in the coming years.

By the latter half of 2008, however, everything was in place to start the move. Mariners' too sought out a company with a history of successful archive moves; it didn't hurt that most of their crew were history buffs either! Trucks began rolling onto the Museum's campus at the end of September for Phase I packing and staging of the general book collection. Almost 80,000 volumes were placed on rolling carts for transport to the new site once all the compact shelving was installed. While the shelving crew laid the tracks, assembled the carriages and spaced the shelves, Phase II of the move commenced item by item cleaning of rare books/archival cartons and prepping of map cases for later transfer to new drawers. This part was by far the most interesting.

Among the rare books were a number of fore edge paintings that required delicate handling and a special cleaning process. Not to be overlooked either were the water stained log books from actual vessels. The map cases held a number of gems too over 10,000 original plans and drawings of galleons, submarines, steamships, tugboats, clippers and every other type of water craft imaginable. Photographs, postcards and manuscripts comprised another significant portion of the archive. It was easy to see why this is billed as "the largest maritime collection in the Western Hemisphere."

Once the "oohing and aahing" was done, it was time for Phase III - the final move and re-shelving of all books, documents and maps. With items dating back to the 1500s, this was indeed a collection that needed extra special care as it moved. Over a three and a half week period, a small, but highly select crew of individuals completed this segment of the task. Their dedication was equaled only by the torrential downpours common to the Newport News area in October/November! Months later, images of lighthouses, nautical charts and pirate ships are still lodged in the move crew's psyche. Without a doubt, this was one of the most memorable library moves.

Both the National Railway Historical Society Library and the Mariners' Museum Library produced a deepened reverence for the past. The breadth and depth of their collections seem unparalleled at this moment, but there's always tomorrow and another rare book library/archive to be moved. Who knows what the future may bring?!