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For over 20 years the Western Michigan University (WMU) archive collection was being housed in three different buildings around campus including an old gymnasium space previously used as a swimming pool. Multiple locations made it difficult for students, faculty and researchers to access as well as the buildings that were storing the historical documents did not have temperature and humidity control. After eight years of planning and design, the Zhang Legacy Collections Center was built. There are now common areas, instructional space, research space as well as a reading room. For storage of the archives an was installed and can hold approximately 15 linear miles of storage.
The 16,000-square-foot Zhang looks nothing like an old-fashioned library. There is a reading room for the public, but there are no wood-paneled shelves, green-shaded lamps or rolling ladders. Inside the Archives, shelves still stretch from floor to ceiling – but they go a lot further up. Documents will be stacked as high as three stories in the air in high-density shelving units, which are built close together and swing open on tracks to allow archivists access to materials. The new Legacy Collections’ environmental conditions, designed to LEED® Silver specifications, will be unparalleled to any other archival records facility. WMU now has 28,000 cubic feet of documents, photographs, government records, letters and diaries, as well as 100,000 volumes worth of books, serials and bound volumes stored within the monitored temperature, relative humidity, air quality and light controlled conditions. The building and it’s staff can now preserve these documents and keep them from being destroyed.8
Having all of the collections under one roof seemed to make a great deal of sense. It also made a great deal of economic sense for the university, because they were maintaining some very outdated buildings.
-Sharon Carlson, Archives and Regional History Collections Western Michigan University
The new building is climate-controlled, energy efficient and has UV-filtered glass to protect the archival materials. The temperature will be maintained by a geothermal heating and cooling unit, and the Archives were built with a vapor barrier to keep out moisture.
The order-picker, which looks like a cross between a fork lift and an elevator, can handle up to 1,000 pounds at the top shelf, said John Parsons, the other site supervisor. The concrete floor, which has electric guides for the machine built inside the aisles, was poured 13 inches thick to handle the weight of the accumulated material.
The large reading room was designed with 1,250 linear feet of shelving, tables and group seating. The reading room has the capacity to be transformed into a 72-seat event center for such activities as public lectures and conferences.
Since 1990, the bulk of the Archives and Regional History Collections have been housed in the old gymnasium in East Hall — with the bulk in a cemented-over swimming pool. Other portions have been housed in North Hall and the dormitory basement in Valley III. 30,000 cubic feet of documents, photographs, government records, letters and diaries, as well as 100,000 volumes worth of books, serials and bound volumes are being moved to the new Zhang Legacy Collections Center. Originally, the Legacy Collections Center was designed to accommodate 10 years of growth for the Archives. But when WMU accepted the complete archives of the Kalamazoo Gazette in 2012, that cut the amount to 8-1/2 years.
“We take very seriously the trust placed in us to care for the documents that have been donated by those we call the ‘donors of treasure,’ those treasures contain thousands of stories, books, articles, videos and productions…without these treasures there would be no purpose for this building.”
~ Sharon Carlson, Archives and Regional History Collections Director Western Michigan University
“We don’t have open shelves for people to come and just browse through. We have to have the kind of products that allow us quick and easy access, because we have to come down and pick things off the shelves in a relatively short amount of time. Researchers would stop using us if it took hours for us to get the materials that they need.”
– Ronald Brashear, Othmer Library Director
“We had a real challenge with that building,” said Sharon Carlson, Archives and Regional History Collections Director, of the Archives’ former home in East Hall. Among other issues, such as shooing away the occasional bat and trying to preserve documents dating to the 1830s with window-unit air-conditioners and dehumidifiers, the Archives staff also had to deal with a balky storm drain that periodically let water into the building. The University’s long-term goal was to find or build a permanent home that is secure, climate-controlled and easily accessible by the general public. The planned building will bring together the collections from East Hall as well as the off-site storage areas. “In the end there was a real cost savings to getting the entire collection under one roof and having them in a purpose-built building like the Zhang Legacy Collections Center,” said Carlson.