In July 2003, the University of Georgia (UGA) Libraries was the victim of an arson fire that was started in the Government documents collection, housed in our Main Library. Approximately 40,000 paper documents and 300,000 microfiche were destroyed; many more were damaged. The process of clean-up and recovery began immediately. Over the course of the next several years, the building was restored and/or remodeled and the most urgent collection issues addressed, including salvaging and cleaning documents and microfiche to make them usable.1 Nine years later, there are still visible scars throughout the collection; some days you can even smell smoke in the stacks from the documents that survived the fire.
Recovering from Tragedy
When I became Regional depository coordinator at UGA in early 2008, the main focus of the various units devoted to Government documents was still fire recovery. By that point, a significant number of items had been acquired from discard lists and elsewhere to replace items damaged or destroyed in the fire; most of these items had not yet been processed. One of my first projects as depository coordinator was to revise the disposal guidelines and procedures in response to concerns about turn-around time from our selective depository libraries. While the new, streamlined discard process was a great hit with the selectives, particularly those who were planning major weeding projects, it also greatly increased the number of lists we received and the number of items added to our processing backlog. Those concerns were multiplied by the plan for the eventual consolidation of the Map Library (which I also headed) and the documents collections in the Main Library to create a new Map and Government Information Library. Although replacing missing or damaged items throughout the collection would remain a priority, after five years, it was time for us to move past the fire itself and start focusing on the future of the collection as a whole.
A Major Inventory & Cataloging Project
Our first step was to begin a long-term project to inventory and catalog our entire paper U.S. documents collection. In the summer of 2009, a task force of department heads from Cataloging, Access Services, Reference, and Government Documents identified the desired outcomes from the inventory project and the processes required to achieve those outcomes. Our primary goal is that every paper item in our U.S. documents collection, and eventually our Georgia and international documents collections, will have a record in GIL, our online catalog. After an initial test phase, the project got underway in late 2010. The inventory process starts with student workers checking each item against GIL to see if they have a record; if no record exists, the item itself is flagged and left on the shelf. Items with records are barcoded as necessary and have a condition assessment noted in their item records; records without condition assessments are considered missing and suppressed from the public catalog. Full time staff resolves problems and copy catalogs items without records in GIL. To date, approximately 25% of the items in our Main Library and 40% of the items in our Science Library have been inventoried. Although we still have many years to go before the project is completed, our progress to date is very encouraging; I fully expect that UGA will have a completely cataloged regional collection in the not-too-distant future.
The next step was a reorganization in early 2010, which included the addition of more full-time and student staff to our Government Documents Processing unit. This allowed us to evaluate and revise our policies and procedures, which in turn allowed us to process items more quickly and efficiently, freeing our staff to do other projects. Most of that year was spent tying up the last of our fire-related projects and sorting out our enormous processing backlog. Perhaps not surprisingly, over half of the backlog turned out to be duplicates, as our old procedures did not include checking the backlog itself before requesting items from discard lists. Our new procedures call for processing all items (including those received from discard lists) as they are received, avoiding at all costs adding anything to the now-dwindling backlog. My staff and I hope to finally have the backlog (some of which predates the fire by several years) eliminated entirely by the end of this calendar year.
Our final step was the opening of our new Map and Government Information Library in July 2012. Created by the merger of the former Map Library and our extensive Government documents collections, our mission is to provide bibliographic, physical, and intellectual access to cartographic and Government information in all formats, consistent with the mission of the UGA Libraries. The Map and Government Information Library is located in the sub-basement of our Main Library in the space vacated by the Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, which moved to our beautiful new Special Collections Building late last year. The maps, air photos, and atlases from the now-former Map Library were moved in late spring; the Georgia, British, and UN documents were moved in June. As of this writing, the move of the U.S. documents collection is underway and expected to be completed by December. Over the course of this academic year, we will be building and expanding our collections and services as we settle into our new space.
My staff and I, along with those Libraries faculty and staff members who preceded us, have worked very hard to get to this point; we will continue to do so as our new library grows and evolves. Speaking for everyone involved, it has been an often challenging, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately rewarding experience. While the Map and Government Information Library is still very much a work in progress, it is also the first step towards what promises to be a bright future for these rich but long-underutilized collections. This is a very exciting time for the UGA Libraries, especially for those of us who work with maps and Government documents.
For further information about the UGA Map and Government Information Library, please visit our new Web site (also a work in progress, but soon to be updated!).
1 Susan Copony Field, “Fire in the University of Georgia Libraries”, DttP: Documents to the People 36 no.3 (Fall 2008), 20-26.