Weight of words: Five Colleges Library Annex set to take 2.5 million volumes

  • Bill Gross of National Library Relocations loads cardboard trays onto shelving during the opening of the new Five College Library Annex May 26, 2017 in Hatfield.

  • Shelving partially loaded with cardboard trays is shown during the opening of the new Five College Library Annex May 26, 2017 in Hatfield.

  • Judy Jones of National Library Relocations assembles cardboard trays to be used to encase books during the opening of the new Five College Library Annex May 26, 2017 in Hatfield.

  • An exterior view of the new Five College Library Annex is shown May 26, 2017 in Hatfield.

For the Recorder
Published: 5/30/2017 9:13:12 AM

HATFIELD — Any bibliophile who has relocated from one home to another knows how burdensome moving a bookshelf full of books can be. Now try and imagine the logistical nightmare involved in moving not just a few boxes of books, but some 2.5 million volumes.

That is the work that will eventually take place at Five Colleges’ new Library Annex in Hatfield, which officially opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday. The 35,000-square-foot building will eventually shelve books from the Five College Repository Collection, Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke and Smith colleges, as well as the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Smith College, a financing partner in the endeavor, will benefit significantly in the short term from the project; the annex will host a large portion of the circulating collection from Neilson Library, which has closed for renovation and reconstruction until 2020.

“This a humongous project,” said Diane Pikul, a project manager for National Library Relocations, which is tasked with the logistics necessary for such an endeavor.

The Library Annex consists of some offices, meeting space and a reading room, but the majority of the building’s space will be used for a climate-controlled storage facility of massive proportions.

The 26,000-square-foot storage module is a concrete-floored room with 24-foot-high green shelving, where the books will eventually be stacked, waiting for students and researchers to request them from the building’s depths. The property has enough space for the construction of up to four future modules of similar size.

The sheer weight of the room — tens of thousands of pounds of concrete, 1 million pounds of steel shelving, plus the weight of 2.5 million volumes — meant that engineers had to make sure the ground beneath was sturdy before beginning.

The storage facility was built on the dried bed of what was once the glacial Lake Hitchcock, which meant that the ground beneath is a mixture loose sand and gravel.

To make sure that surface provided a study base, builders placed weight on the soil to compact it some 5 inches over the period of eight weeks. Engineers will continue monitoring the building to ensure that it’s stable, and also provided insight into the order in which the books should be stacked to prevent the building from wobbling.

It’s the job of Pikul and her team at National Library Relocations to handle the moving and stacking of those books: planning the spacing and location of the books, calculating how many trays are needed to hold the volumes, ensuring that books are easy to locate after they are stored.

“It’s a very detail-oriented project,” Pikul said.

The books will arrive on trucks at the building’s processing area, where they will be scanned together with the cardboard tray they’re placed in. Those trays will then be brought to the shelving, where they will again be scanned, thus marrying them to a shelf and tray location for easy future access.

Maybury Material Handling of East Longmeadow built those specially designed shelves, onto which books will be slid into place on a rail-guided “stock picker” similar to those seen at other warehouses, account manager Bob Mazzariello said. This particular system, however, is uniquely designed for the Library Annex’s uses.

Neal Abraham, Five Colleges executive director, presided over the ribbon-cutting ceremony, with plenty of thanks to go around for all the administrators, engineers, contractors and subcontractors who made the project possible.

Speaking to the Gazette, Abraham talked about the changing nature of browsing, given the increasing digitization of print material. However, despite the move away from the physical toward the digital, an original text is still often needed, especially for rarely used books, he said.

“This provides a place to preserve the print for rapid retrieval and accessibility,” Abraham said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached a dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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