IU’s ALF Building Archives Hoard Of Treasures

By Jon Blau

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) – A box of papers waits in a room chilled to 50 degrees, its lid covering proof of the 13 to 14 hours Kate Cruikshank spent making sense of them all.

The political papers of former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh didn’t come with a “table of contents,” but Cruikshank, an archivist at Indiana University’s Ruth Lilly Auxiliary Library Facility, pulls the lid off the box to show the order she has brought to the senator’s correspondence. She reworked more than 800 Bayh boxes, the first on a shelf closest to a dimly lit center walkway, the last 80 yards down a darkening alley of metal stacks.

There are six to seven boxes purely devoted to letters Bayh received from constituents about a possible amendment to the U.S. Constitution after the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.

The archives of Bayh, U.S. Reps. Lee Hamilton and Frank McCloskey and U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar and the personal correspondence of former IU President Herman B Wells are but a part of a hoard of treasures being stored at the auxiliary library facility, “ALF” for short. More than a decade of modernization and reorganization of space at campus libraries has filled the ALF with more than 2.8 million books alone, on shelves standing about 32 feet tall, The Herald-Times reported.

Therein lies a claustrophobe’s nightmare. Only 4 feet separates one metal stack from the next. Sean Frew drives the lift that squeezes between them, pulling out boxes to pick obscure titles, such as “The Moths of America, North of Mexico,” “Pioneer Cabinet Makers of Cooperstown” and “The Jews in China: Their Synagogue, Their Scriptures, Their History.”

The stacks are filled with thousands of white boxes full of books and papers, sorted by cover size, identified by small stickers with barcodes. Books that are stored here, a facility off of North Range Road 1.5 miles to the northeast of the Herman Wells Library, are deemed low-use but high-value. Films are also stored here, piled in metal canisters on the shelves.

IU President Michael McRobbie announced the push to “digitize” film and video and audio recordings during his “State of the University” speech, but the contents of the ALF come from a previous effort to modernize. Vaughn Nuest, the ALF’s manager, remembers a time when the Wells Library was overstuffed with books, stacks seemingly on the verge of colliding with one another and volumes overflowing onto nearby carts.

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