The Harvard Depository
April 2, 2010 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Harvard University finished in 1986 construction of the Harvard Depository, a mysterious storage facility in a publicly undisclosed location 30 miles from campus where large tracts of land are less expensive than in Cambridge. While the facility was originally intended to store Harvard's least-used volumes, it is now home to 45 percent of Harvard's collections. David Lamberth, chair of the Library Implementation Work Group, calls it a "precise warehouse" for which the term "library" would prove inaccurate.
posted by stbalbach (45 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
a mysterious storage facility in a publicly undisclosed location

Here you go.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2010


...a mysterious storage facility in a publicly undisclosed location 30 miles from campus...

Two words and one click later...
posted by bicyclefish at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2010


Not that secret.
posted by theredpen at 9:24 AM on April 2, 2010


FIST SHAKE
posted by bicyclefish at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2010


MANIACAL LAUGH
posted by Sys Rq at 9:26 AM on April 2, 2010


Y'all are aware that a bunch of Harvard librarians will have to come hunt you down now, right?

We called it OPERATION: AUTHORITY CONTROL back in the day. It was a lot of fun. You got to see a lot of exotic places and a lot of shocked, panicked people.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:27 AM on April 2, 2010 [11 favorites]


Hm, if we do a FPP mentioning the Holy Grail as being in a mysterious storage facility in a publicly undisclosed location, will that take care of that open question?
posted by theredpen at 9:35 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's being managed by top men.

Top. Men.
posted by The Whelk at 9:36 AM on April 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wow, a university building a facility to store books. Incredible.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:38 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Thats that place from the horrible series of movies with Noah Wyle right?
posted by ShawnString at 9:44 AM on April 2, 2010


It looks quite out of the way.

However, the vision that the article describes ("the Depository is a critical component of Harvard’s vision of the modern library, whose holdings are first found online rather than on the shelves themselves") is probably the wave of the future.
posted by blucevalo at 9:49 AM on April 2, 2010


They only do deliveries once a day and only Monday through Friday? Lame.

My place has twice a day deliveries (to the main library) Monday-Friday, including one delivery on Saturday and Sunday. And we do electronic articles too. Suck it, Harvard.
posted by sperose at 9:51 AM on April 2, 2010


If a student requests a book from the Depository before 6:45 a.m., the book will be waiting for the student to claim that same afternoon...

I'm sorry, but I have a hard time believing that even Harvard students are requesting library materials before 7 AM.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2010


I'm outraged!
posted by found missing at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2010


University Library has off-site storage facility. Film at 11.

Seriously, people really want to believe in conspiracies and hidden cabals controlling our lives, but the fact is that the people controlling our lives do it in the open, with our consent, and rely on the fact that we are too lazy to care.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:55 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


In D.C., it's the Washington Research Library Consortium. I've actually been to Duke's "high density remote service facility," the Library Service Center. I just called them up, and said: "Reveal to me the mystery of storing truckloads of old books and journals!" And they were like, "See you Monday!" The thing's the size of a Zeppelin hanger, floor to ceiling with books, cold as a meat locker. Heaven.
posted by steef at 10:01 AM on April 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well HD "serves as a model for over 80 similar projects around the world" and the article is pretty interesting on how it works, since its otherwise so "secret" (ie. no visitors).
posted by stbalbach at 10:09 AM on April 2, 2010


Indiana University's Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF) combines digitization and preservation facilities with its cold warehouse. It's an absolutely amazing place on the inside of the warehouse- even when there's a group of people talking in it, it seems so very quiet and cold, and not quite fully lit.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:11 AM on April 2, 2010


When I worked for the O'Neill Library at Boston College, we had a 'satellite library' that I was the curator of. It was on the Newton College campus, which Boston College had recently acquired and turned into a law school. A nice new law library was built on campus, so the old, three-story general campus library was locked up and used to store less-circulated volumes within the Boston College Library collection.

It was eerie as hell, let me tell you. I'd show up every morning with a box of books to the mostly-dark, empty building, and pass from shelf to shelf putting away books and reorganizing and retrieving volumes that had been requested. What was oddest was how dead quiet it was; a wholly different kind of quiet than I was used to in libraries. You don't notice it, but even relatively quiet working libraries have a sort of hum, a buzz of quiet activity. Not at the Newton library; that place was dead. The light was mostly natural light that came in through the large windows at one end of the building, where they stretched from floor to ceiling and where the floors stopped in a large, empty space.

Once I was done shelving and retrieving books in the morning, I'd usually spend the rest of the day reading or poking around the internet. I did a lot of my early metafiltering there, since I'd just gotten an account; and I remember reading through a whole hell of a lot of Aquinas and Spinoza in that huge, silent edifice.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 AM on April 2, 2010 [10 favorites]


I actually know more about this subject than you can possibly imagine.

By which I mean, I got to visit once.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:18 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually, lots of Universities need off-site storage. If you get a chance, visit one. They're crazy interesting if they just take all the stuff professors want to store and shove them into storage units. Decades of machines, parts, office furniture, records, slides...you name it.

The University of Minnesota, for example, uses a huge location called UMore Park. It consists of over 4000 acres and 45 buildings for around a half million square feet of storage/other use space. Those buildings are all spaced quite distant from each other due to a geeky-fascinating history:

By 1870, local farmers had about 80 percent of the land in Dakota County in production. Farm families began vacating their homes in May of 1942 for the federal government’s site preparation for the Gopher Ordnance Works, a facility to produce “smokeless powder,” the basic propellant for American military ordnance.World War II ended just as the initial facility came on line, and in 1947-1948, the U.S. government deeded about 7,686 acres of the Gopher Ordnance Works land to the University of Minnesota.em>
posted by Muddler at 10:18 AM on April 2, 2010


Pro tip: if you decide to do this, don't put it in a goopy, hazardous waste pocket.
posted by gimonca at 10:20 AM on April 2, 2010


If you listen closely, you can hear Henry Bemis whispering, "Time enough at last . . . time enough at last!"
posted by mattdidthat at 10:25 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Library of Congress has several storage facilities, notably for books at Ft. Meade, MD and for audio-visual materials in Culpeper, VA. I've been to the Culpeper facility. Housed in an old Federal Reserve vault cut into a mountainside, the center's goal is to digitize every videotape in the collection, collect every version of every videogame, and record every TV transmission, among other things. The neatest thing I saw there was a paper copy of one of Edison's films--in the early days, movie-makers had to submit paper prints if they wanted copywright protection. They also have just about every conceivable playback machine--old wax cylinder players, giant fly-wheel balanced LP turntables, you name it. Amazing place.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:28 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


“As far as books are concerned, it’s still 1995,” Schneiter said as he stood inside a particular module.

The books are going to be devastated when they hear about Princess Diana.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:48 AM on April 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


I have an idea. Why don't they forget the expensive depository and store their zillions of books on this thing called "the Internet" so everyone can get them and read them and copy them and exchange them and thereby preserve them forever because, by this device, there will be zillions of copies of them floating around on zillions of networked hard drives in hundreds of countries until the sun explodes and wipes out life on earth?

And you know what it would cost them (at least for the titles out of copyright)? Almost zilch.

(BTW, a bunch of us commies suggested this to the Harvard librarians a decade ago. They said it was "impractical." Tell that to Google.)
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:03 AM on April 2, 2010


I'm mostly amused they called is a "warehouse". We're going to be moving about 40% of our collection to a secondary facilty.

MarshallPoe > (BTW, a bunch of us commies suggested this to the Harvard librarians a decade ago. They said it was "impractical." Tell that to Google.)

MarshallPoe, will you be providing the Harvard Library with Google's budget for the however many decades a digitization project of that scale would take? Sorry, I'm all for digitization, but you can't handwave that one.
posted by Decimask at 11:17 AM on April 2, 2010


We called it OPERATION: AUTHORITY CONTROL back in the day.

I remember this film. At the beginning, the Library Intern showed off a picture of her boyfriend (she didn't make it out of the depository in the end). Then there was the crack Technical Services Librarian who managed to bring the catalog back on line just in time. Of course, Robert De Niro played the world-weary Reference Librarian called out of retirement for one last search...
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:34 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was actually in that movie, Genji. I was ILL Corpse #3. You can see the back of my blood-soaked head in the scene where DeNiro is staring at his hands, wondering what library science has become.

He's a really nice guy in person.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:38 AM on April 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


I was once told that all Harvard dissertations were sealed under concrete for five years after they're printed, but I didn't really figure that it was meant literally.

I probably should have known that the availability of dissertations is not the sort of thing 75 year old Byzantinists like to joke about.
posted by Copronymus at 11:38 AM on April 2, 2010


Why don't they forget the expensive depository and store their zillions of books on this thing called "the Internet"

Our civilization has been transmitting information via codices for the past 2,000 years, and Harvard has been carefully assembling one of the world's best collections of them for the past 400. Books are not merely the information they contain; their physicality is itself information. I am a big advocate of digitization, but that doesn't mean that the solution to our storage problems is to digitize and dump all the paper books.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:40 AM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


I liked the scene that goes:

De Niro: I'd like to see the report
Shadowy Library Agent: I'm sorry, you can't. It's classified.
De Niro: Of course it's classified; if it wasn't, how could you find it.

Gets me every time.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:47 AM on April 2, 2010 [14 favorites]


I have to give a shout out to my depository, the five college library depository, because it's a BUNKER, built and first used by the United States Air Force Strategic Air Command.
posted by missmary6 at 11:48 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hey, I was in that film, too! I was Irate Patron Who Just Needs Five More Minutes On The Damn Computer. Modesty forbids me from describing just how it was that I helped Natalie Portman ("Shy Cataloger") discover the joys of womanhood.

OK, so I found a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves for her. That counts. Besides, I made sure that it was one of the earlier editions from when the Boston Women's Health Book Collective was still pretty radical.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:52 AM on April 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


I worked at Widener Library all through college.

Every morning a moving van arrives with dozens of plastic crates filled to the brim with heavy books. These crates have to be sorted and the books matched to patrons. The van leaves with dozens more crates filled with books returning.

Patrons like the Depository because they don't have to search for anything--the book is brought to you and held at circulation until you come pick them up.

Widener employees like the Depository because (1) we don't have to reshelve the books and (2) only the freaky-deaky books are stored there so it is fun to get to see something more exciting than yet another returned copy of a 19th century French text.

Also all the DVDs are stored there (or at least they were) to discourage too much circulation.
posted by jefficator at 12:27 PM on April 2, 2010


ive driven by the culpepper facility, its a pretty recent buy for the govt evidently... (last few years)
posted by knockoutking at 1:50 PM on April 2, 2010


Johnny Assay, "before 6:45 am" could of course mean late at night.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:20 PM on April 2, 2010


I'm sorry, but I have a hard time believing that even Harvard students are requesting library materials before 7 AM.


Pshaw. Would have been just the thing back in my day. By 7:45AM it was time to stop doing lines and work on the paper due at 9AM.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:36 PM on April 2, 2010


MarshallPoe, will you be providing the Harvard Library with Google's budget for the however many decades a digitization project of that scale would take? Sorry, I'm all for digitization, but you can't handwave that one.

I can.

Economics of Book Digitization

"The Internet Archive scans books at a cost of 10 cents/page or $30/book...and that cost also covers periodically reprocessing the books based on new techniques and technologies as well as perpetual storage."

The Harvard library has 16M volumes. At the rate quoted above, they could digitize their collection for $480M. Harvard's endowment is $26B (as of 2005) and grew by $6B (in 2008).

If they allocate less than 1% of one year's gain to this project, they'd be done in less than a year.
posted by zippy at 4:24 PM on April 2, 2010


Sorry, typo. Meant 10%.
posted by zippy at 4:27 PM on April 2, 2010


Internet Archive hosts books from major Universities all over the world, but no Harvard, because Google has been digitizing Harvard and locked others out. Luckily Internet Archive snaged copies of [some of] those Harvard scans.

It's sort of like this:

Google = WallMart ("we care about money foremost and want to lock everyone else out")
Internet Archive = Public Library ("we care about books foremost and don't care where we get them")
posted by stbalbach at 5:55 PM on April 2, 2010 [3 favorites]


Harvard's endowment is $26B (as of 2005) and grew by $6B (in 2008).

Did you see what happened to Harvard's endowment in 2009?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 7:19 PM on April 2, 2010


That's what she said.
posted by WalterMitty at 7:35 PM on April 2, 2010


Did you see what happened to Harvard's endowment in 2009?

I couldn't find a link, but I did know about it. Their bad showing in 2009 means they're back to 2005 levels: $26B in the endowment. No doubt they will have many more years of growth.
posted by zippy at 9:45 PM on April 2, 2010


I just got the following email today:

Worried you don't know enough about what a facility requires for quality preservation? Want to be able to speak to preservation issues in a job interview or when you are new on the job? Then join us for a tour of the Harvard Depository on Wednesday, April 21st at 1pm in Southborough, MA.

Wednesday, April 21st 1:00pm
Tour of the Harvard Depository
1 Pine Hill Drive
Southborough, MA 01772
NOTE: YOU MUST REGISTER FOR THIS EVENT! THE TOUR IS LIMITED TO TWELVE PARTICIPANTS!
Register at: http://scosaadepositorytour.eventbrite.com/


So mysterious!
posted by waitingtoderail at 9:53 AM on April 5, 2010


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