The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease: A Custom Storage Solution for an Unusual Collection

Unrolled group of graphic recordings showing just how large and unwieldy these records are. Photo byDealing with items of an unusual shape or size is a perpetual difficulty for archives. Some collections consist of a wide variety of objects with different housing needs, but need to be kept together for provenance reasons. Items that are too small or too large both pose problems, but these storage difficulties can be mitigated by careful handling, or by sorting and housing different-sized items based on their size where possible.

Extremely difficult-to-handle formats also occasionally come in that need custom housing to be safely stored and accessed. One recent example is Accession 09-296 - Office of the Secretary, Strategic Planning Records, 2009, a collection of six rolls of oversize drawings done by Lynn Carruthers of Global Business Network, a scenario planning company that assists organizations in extrapolating and preparing for possible future events. These drawings are graphic recordings of strategic planning sessions for the Smithsonian held in March and April of 2009 under the direction of Secretary G. Wayne Clough, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Smithsonian Grand Challenges, a framework that shapes the current strategic outlook of the Smithsonian.

These rolls, one for each workshop or planning session, consist of several sheets of large drawing paper, each of slightly different dimensions. While the majority of each roll is usually comprised of sheets that are close in size to one another, there are frequently outliers that are either significantly shorter in the rolled dimension (horizontal) or somewhat longer.

The preferred storage method for oversize rolled or folded items is often flat storage; however, these drawings far exceed the footprint available in the flat storage cabinets at the Archives, and this option was immediately discarded. The simplest solution would have been to keep the drawings rolled, place them in archival cardboard tubes, and send them to the Archives' offsite storage facility at Iron Mountain. Unfortunately, the drawings are too tall to fit in the tubes and Iron Mountain only stores enclosures of standard dimensions, necessitating a custom housing that would remain in the Archives onsite storage.

Detail of rolled item support showing foot attached to archival core. Photo by William Bennett, 2015The drawings were first given a strong support base - archival-quality (pH-neutral, acid-free, buffered) cylindrical cores; for extra stability and to protect the bottom of the rolled drawings, these were attached to square feet cut from corrugated archival board with preservation-friendly hot glue. The drawings were then wrapped around the cores, linen tape was tied around each roll, and descriptive labels were created and placed beneath the ties.

View of box interior with mitered flap attachment visible along the sides and at the bottom. Photo bA custom two-piece box was made from more corrugated board to house and protect all six rolls. The lower portion consists of two pieces attached with the hot glue at mitered flaps; a rectangular piece finishes off the bottom for a level base, and another rectangle placed between the bottom flaps gives a flush interior surface for the rolls to rest upon. A lip to support the lid was created from a strip of corrugated board and adhered around the exterior surface. The lid consists again of two main pieces, assembled in the same way as the lower tray, and finished with a rectangular piece on top. All pieces were pre-scored to ensure clean folds. [Edit: A printable diagram of this construction has since been posted as a contribution to STASH-C.]

Box lip in process of being attached, providing a resting point for the enclosure lid. Photo by WillTime will tell whether this housing solution functions as well as hoped. Though the cores with their stabilizing feet are sturdy enough, because they are unusually tall they remain prone to wobbling, which makes moving the entire box difficult. At the moment, it is envisioned that only one or two rolls will be removed for a researcher because of how cumbersome they are, leaving the remainder in their box in the designated storage location. While this solution was not ideal, it is effective and was an excellent opportunity to experiment with custom enclosures.

The completed box: lid in place on the left, and lid removed on the right to show all six rolls of gThough this collection is an unwieldy one, it provides a valuable snapshot of the beginning of Secretary Clough's tenure, and documents his desire to provide the Smithsonian with a clear vision for its future as a repository of the United States' cultural heritage. As Secretary Clough's plan continues to shape the direction of the Institution, it may be that succeeding secretaries will revisit the origins of the Grand Challenges by studying these drawings, and be inspired with new ideas for the future.

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