Library of Congress stacks its bar codes three deep for storage

Discussing the new facility are, from left, Capitol architect Alan Hantman, librarian of Congress James H. Billington and assistant architect Michael G. Turnbull.

Henrik G. DeGyor

Each rare book is sized, bar-coded, placed in a correspondingly bar-coded box and stored on a correspondingly bar-coded shelf.

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Library of Congress in November opened its first off-site storage facility in two decades at Fort Meade, Md.

The 8,500-square-foot building is the first of what eventually will be a 13-building campus spanning 100 acres and housing rarely requested books and periodicals. That will free up space for the growing collection on Capitol Hill.

'It's long been something we've needed,' librarian of Congress James H. Billington said.

To lengthen the lifetime of valuable paper materials, the $4.7 million storage facility is kept at a chilly 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 30 percent humidity. Lowering the temperature by 20 degrees preserves paper for about six times its original life expectancy, officials said.

Researchers can request stored books and magazines, which will be delivered through twice-daily trips between Capitol Hill and Fort Meade. The transfers will swap an estimated 200 books per day, not counting the daily truckloads of rare materials that will be sent to the new facility to be stored on 30-foot-high shelves. Library officials said they suspect the building could reach its 1.2-million-unit capacity in two and a half years.

Workers place each book on a template to determine the size of box that should house it. They then scan a bar code for the box, corresponding to the bar codes of the books inside.

Bar code database

When the box reaches the warehouse dock, employees there use portable scanners to link the box's bar code to another on the shelf that will hold it, together with arrival date and shipping information.

The triple-level bar code data gets its own storage facility'a server-side database called the Library Archival System that remote users can access via Telnet.

A data-harvesting program on the server uploads bar code data from the portable scanners. Both software applications are from Generation Fifth Applications Inc. of Kennebunk, Maine.

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