Jesuit Archives Prepares for Big Move

How, exactly, are you supposed to pack an electric host maker?

Everyone knows moving is hard work, but moving an entire collection of valuable documents, precious glass slides and centuries-old artifacts is a different kind of challenging. 

How do you pack and move a centuries-old reliquary? What about a racquetball glove hanger (complete with strict instructions to keep pairs of gloves together)? Or papal zucchettos (otherwise known as pope hats)? These are not your typical new-house commodities. 

In the coming weeks, the Jesuit Archives will move from its current building to the new Jesuit Archives and Research Center (JARC) in St. Louis. The Archives staff hopes to complete the transfer of collections by Thanksgiving to begin unpacking and sorting materials, as they await the arrivals of yet more Jesuit collections from all over the country. 

The archivists are excited for the opportunities that will come with the new building. JARC will be six times the size of the existing facility. With more floor and meeting spaces, there will be plenty of places to host classes, meetings, symposiums and more. To the Archives staff, the new building is “every archivist’s dream.” 

“Every step of this project has been complicated,” said Archivist David Miros, Ph.D. “From the initial planning and design, to planning for move. The staff here has done just an amazing job. Not only has their planning been meticulous, but they’ve stepped in to operate pallet jacks and shrink-wrap crates without batting an eye.” 

The new Jesuit Archives and Research Center is located just east of the Archives’ current location, just outside the campus of Saint Louis University on West Pine. The 32,000-square foot building will be a central hub of Jesuit archives research throughout the country. 

At two-and-a-half stories, JARC will be home to thousands of stories embodied in the collection, which currently amounts to more than 6,000 linear feet. And the staff estimates that by 2020, JARC will be home to more than 10,000 linear feet of Jesuit history (that’s more than the length of 27 football fields!).

The move has required a balancing act between keeping the collections open to researchers and closing them to prepare to move to the new Jesuit Archives Research Center down the street, says Ann Knake, associate archivist for reverence services. Though the project has been in the works for several years, the Archives remained open until this summer and began packing in earnest this fall. 

The move has also created interesting logistical challenges: How many pallets of material will fit in a spare room in the current Archives building? And where do the boxes go once inside the new building? 

Associate Archivist for Collection Management Maddie McDermott has mapped out an elaborate organization system to facilitate the move from building to building. In addition, each box is receiving a barcode (complete with the new JARC logo!), so that every single item is accounted for and arrives at its rightful place on the shelves.

Knake says that 90% of the moving will be done by professional movers, but delicate glass slides, artwork and other awkward, but precious items will be moved by the Archives staff themselves. 

The process of packing has also led to new discoveries, including a copy of The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking by Bro. Rick Curry, SJ, an illustrated German nursing textbook published 1896 and a listing of an “ear-shaped reliquary”—of which the staff has foregone investigation, for fear of what’s inside.

It is no small feat to move nearly 5,000 boxes, many of which have already been fit like puzzles into more than 75 custom-sized pallets. But the work does not end there, the staff will be sorting, re-labeling and cataloging the collection thereafter.

While the move itself is just days away, JARC will not open to patrons until late April 2018. 

This building will have hours in which it is open to visitors. Instead of by appointment only, researchers and students will be able to visit anytime during office hours. 

“In a field where people are being shoved into smaller and tighter places, to have a provincial (Fr. Ronald Mercier, SJ) who values this project and the preservation of this knowledge is really a privilege,” McDermott said.

For photos of the move, visit our SmugMug account. 


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