July 3, 2014

The Compact Green Mile

The Montana Historical Society Archives staff and the collections they manage have been through many changes during the past year. The main storage area underwent complete renovation. Old shelving was disassembled and removed. The white walls were repainted, and the green floors, as well. Most notably, the area we affectionately refer to as the Green Mile was compacted. A brand new, high-density mobile shelving system replaced the old mismatched standard metal shelves. The Archives now has room to grow and the collections are more protected and better housed than ever before.

Before (top) and after (bottom) (photos by Tom Ferris)

Of course, to accomplish all of this, much preliminary work had to be completed by the Historical Society staff before moving anything. Almost a year ago, archivists began preparing more than 17,000 boxes and bound volumes by systematically surveying the materials in order to plan for and resolve any potential problems. Hundreds of items were rehoused and a master shelf list was created to help track collections through the project. This effort continued as boxes were stacked on pallets for shipment to a temporary storage warehouse, where this large bulk of Montana's historical record would reside for several months. About a month and thousands of box lifts later, Research Center archivists, joined by other staff at the Montana Historical Society, completed the safe movement of all archival collections.

Archivist Jeff Malcomson checks on the archives materials
in temporary storage (photo by Tom Ferris)
After several months of renovation work and installation of the shelving system, it all began again in March - in reverse order; collections began flowing back onto the new shelving. Anyone who has moved personal belongings from one house to another knows that moving in and unpacking is often a more difficult endeavor than the initial packing. The same holds true for archival collections.  Through several more weeks of exhausting labor, the race was won and the marathon finally finished. Montana's archival treasures are safely residing on their new (and very nice, I might add) shelves.

Through this once in a lifetime (we hope!) project, the archives staff learned many things about ourselves and our capabilities as archivists. Above all, we learned more about our amazing collections. The huge benefit of the project was that we handled just about every box and volume in the main storage area. This concentrated attention on the collections greatly aided us in two of an archivist's primary tasks: gaining physical and intellectual control over the collections. After a challenging year, the archival collections have a better storage and preservation infrastructure. And, we have a deeper understanding of the collections we hold.

If you would like to see the new Montana Historical Society Archives storage area, ask us for a tour on your next visit to MHS' Research Center library.