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Tozzer Book by Book: Library Staff Move 155,000 Volumes

Preparing for the Tozzer Anthropology Library renovation, entire collection relocated.


September 25, 2012—-How long does it take to relocate 155,000 books—by hand—one cartload at a time?


About a year, according to Tozzer Anthropology Library staff members. In fall 2011, Tozzer staff  learned that the space that had housed one of the world’s largest anthropology research libraries since 1976 would be renovated—and all its contents moved either to William James Hall, on Kirkland Street, or to the Harvard Depository. Lynne Schmelz—librarian for the sciences, whose first-ever job at Harvard was head of the Tozzer Library—expects the building will reopen to students and faculty in June 2014.


“Tozzer is more than a physical space; it’s a culture,” said Isabel Quintana, former head of technical services for the Tozzer and relocation co-project manager. Quintana worked at Tozzer for 25 years; she now works in Information and Technical Services, with an office in Cabot Library. “Tozzer Library was a special place in which to work, with an amazing collection. There was always such a sense of community with such vast knowledge and caring.”


Tozzer’s collection was “divided into three chunks,” explained Sarah Tudesco, an organizational performance reporting and assessment librarian who served as one of two project managers for the move. About 18 percent of the books were re-shelved in William James Hall. The others were shipped to the Harvard Depository. Around 20,000 of those items—including all of special collections—will return to campus when the Tozzer renovation is complete. The other portion will remain in the Depository campus, readily obtainable through HOLLIS. 


Deciding which books would remain on campus was a painstaking process. Tudesco devised a system of spreadsheets to assess the various parts of the collection, and Janet Steins, the collection development librarian, evaluated the titles based on their importance to the essential core of anthropological materials and their frequency of use.


“We removed the collection book by book from the shelves, brought each one to the computer for processing and bar-coding and then packed them,” Quintana said. “Many of us were there when we dismantled the card catalog to replace it with HOLLIS, so we knew the histories of the books.  The last six months have been a feverishly busy and an emotional ride.”


Tudesco said that during such a daunting project, it is “sometimes tempting just to throw books in boxes and finish as quickly as possible.” But Tozzer staff value their collection too much to let that happen.


“Interestingly, we ended up recovering books during the move,” Quintana said. “Some that had been marked missing in HOLLIS were found in the move to William James Hall.”


On the day they locked the doors to Tozzer for the final time before renovation, staff members toasted the space with glasses marked with a Thunderbird and Whale emblem, an image of the Kwakiutl statue that still looms over the second floor of the library. It, too, will soon go into storage.


“Leaving the project felt like leaving middle school to start  high school,” Tudesco said. “You know you’ll see some of the faces again—and some new ones—but it won’t be the same. I am interested to see how the new culture develops in William James Hall and ultimately in the renovated Tozzer Library.”


Schmelz added: “Temporarily closing the Tozzer Library building for renovation marks the end of an era. Those who worked there over the years cherished the cultural experience and the teamwork used to provide collections and services to the Harvard community and beyond. We look forward to the possibilities of a renovated Tozzer Library, firmly ensconced in an integrated complex with the Department of Anthropology and Peabody Museum, providing an enhanced destination for faculty, students and staff.”


See before-and-after photos of Tozzer  here.