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Friday, August 31, 2012


The Archives Center of the National Museum of American History is moving, as you may have heard.  The move is only temporary (we hope), for the duration of a major renovation of the Museum’s West Wing, estimated at two years.  The Archives Center will be in a construction zone during this period, so we must remove everything of value, for both protection and to ensure access, as well as to allow contractors to perform their work without obstacles.  Therefore collections, furniture, and staff—virtually everything, lock, stock, and barrel, must be moved, with a major exception described below.

Preparations for this move have been underway for months, under the direction of Archives Center chair Deborra Richardson.  Archivist Craig Orr is the mastermind of the details, and he has been determining who moves what when.  Today we experienced the first phase of the movement of furniture and supplies to the new, much smaller reference room location in the “South Wing” or south annex of the building—coordinated by Craig.  It’s hard to believe this is actually happening, and I, for one, felt a bit dazed as the reality sank in.  A celebratory (?) pizza lunch for our staff revived me, however, although it was delayed by the delivery person erroneously going to the Museum of Natural History.*  On Tuesday, September 4, we will begin providing reference service in the new space.

The actual movement of collections will begin on September 17, during which the reference room will be closed for two weeks.  This closing is essential because it will be too difficult to access much collection material.  All collection materials must be removed from the compact shelving in our first-floor secure storage room—although our basement storage rooms will still be in use, unaffected by the project.  Many archives and museums find that they must close for lengthy periods during construction and renovation projects and to facilitate moves to new locations, but this is the first time the Archives Center has had to suspend reference service for such a project.  When we moved from the third floor of the Museum to the first floor in 2003, we did not lose a single day of reference service.  New instructions for researchers are now on our "Welcome" page: see the "Archives Center" link below.

Office locations for staff will be tiny during the renovation, and our big problem is to determine what limited amount of files, supplies, and other stuff we can take with us when we actually move ourselves; this must be completed before November, when the actual renovation begins.  Office files, papers, and personal items which we decide we can live without for two years will be packed and gradually loaded into the compact shelving after it has been stripped of collection items.  I personally seem to have a large number of “active” project files, and am having considerable trouble determining what I can live without.

The author gives Dutch photographer Emile Waagenaar a peek into the Archives Center stacks, 2008. 
In lieu of illustrations of collection items for this blog, I’ve decided to show myself in our compact-shelving stack area with Dutch photographer Emile Waagenaar, whose pictures of Cajun musicians in Louisiana I’ve illustrated previously.  Both our move and Louisiana have been on my mind this week.

* If anyone can tell me why so many couriers, delivery vans (including UPS and Federal Express), pizza shops, researchers, and other people get lost trying to find our Museum, frequently ending up at Natural History instead, I'd love to hear it.  Are we invisible?  Is "Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets" too complicated?

David Haberstich
Curator of Photography
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

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