Moving and Storing the SMU Archives

Last April, I learned that the Southern Methodist University Archives would move and go into storage during the construction of the Rees-Jones Library of the American West. Although I am excited about a new building, new storage for historical material, and new exhibit space, I was also apprehensive.

Moving an archives is a complex project. The SMU Archives currently has over 540 collections ranging in size from one item to more than 200 record center boxes. We have yearbooks, speeches, scrapbooks, photographs, films, videos, athletic uniforms, correspondence, and even two antique megaphones. Paper and artifacts tend to be older, and some are quite fragile. We get materials via administrative transfer or from donations from alumni or professors.

SMU Archives shelving with boxes
SMU Archives boxes before the move

Fortunately, SMU had contracted with Iron Mountain to move and store the collection. Iron Mountain has experts in logistics. Their solution architects (also known as librarians) helped us visualize the process. We were in good hands.

Before the archives could be moved, each collection had to be boxed, labeled, inventoried, and have a description complete with date range and number of boxes.  During the summer Anthony White, a history graduate student from the University of Texas at Arlington, processed several collections, wrote one new finding aid and generated detailed inventories for about 20 collections. A DeGolyer co-worker jumped in and volunteered to create 80 new catalog records.

Boxes going to Iron Mountain had to be strong enough to withstand stacking boxes four high. during the actual move. Abby May and Jet Kassing, summer hires, replaced and relabeled all of the flimsy boxes into new sturdier record center cartons.

During the fall, that same co-worker applied a barcode to each and every box and then created an item record in the Library Catalog. To do this, she had to climb up and down ladders to get to the high boxes. Avi Gonzalez, a temporary worker, continued to create inventories and packed boxes of Rotundas and course catalogs. We also had to decide which collections were absolutely essential, or too fragile (glass plate negatives), or just too bulky (the antique megaphones) and would have to be kept here in the DeGolyer Library.

In January, the wonderful team from Iron Mountain arrived. Anna Lamphear, librarian, strategized for how the boxes would be palletized which meant how the boxes would be ordered on pallets, shrink wrapped and moved to Iron Mountain. The palletization is important so that when the boxes are returned to DeGolyer they can be arranged in accession order.

It was time for the collection to be barcoded and tagged by Iron Mountain. A team of five folks applied an Iron Mountain bar code and mapped each Library bar code to each Iron Mountain barcode. They then did the actual moving and palletizing of boxes.

A pallet of boxes
Some of the boxes that were palletized and ready for the move to Iron Mountain

The move is taking about two weeks, and soon the boxes will be safe, secure and findable at Iron Mountain.  After we finalize a procedure, boxes can be delivered back to Southern Methodist University when scholars or students request them. We will still be able to help our researchers.

 This post was written by Joan Gosnell, University Archivist