Greetings from the Archives: Leah’s First Big Offsite Project

Happy (mid) October, and happy American Archives Month! I’m Leah Edelman, the Outreach Archivist at the Burke Library, and though I started working here at the end of June, I thought this month would be a good one to introduce myself on the blog.

With support from the wonderful library team, I manage all things archives here at the Burke. I provide reference and research support for archival collections; I work with UTS, Columbia, and Barnard faculty and students on course-based archival planning and teaching; I acquire, process, and create description for archival collections using ArchivesSpace, an information-management system designed specifically for archives; and I supervise the work of student assistants on archival projects.

One of my first priorities upon starting at the Burke was to move a number of archival collections to our offsite Research Collections and Preservation facility (ReCAP). Columbia University operates ReCAP jointly with the New York Public Library, Princeton University, and most recently with Harvard University. This fully climate-controlled facility in New Jersey houses over five million books and archival collections from Columbia University, and allows Columbia’s individual libraries and repositories to accommodate new acquisitions, provide larger study spaces, and better preserve historical collections. And don’t worry: materials housed off-site at ReCAP are still accessible at the Burke, they just take a day or two to get here once we place your request!

So how does the transfer process work? First, Head of the Burke Matthew Baker and I consulted on which collections might be good candidates to move offsite. We considered factors including recent research use, size of the collection, level of existing description for the collection, and current location.

We have a number of collections storage locations here at Burke, some more or less easily accessible, and some more or less crowded. Ideally, we’d like all collections to live safely in shelving units (not on top of them, and not on wire carts).

Archive storage boxes on a wire cart in the Burke Library
Archive storage boxes on a wire cart at the Burke Library

Those using the restrooms or stopping by L4 during the summer months may have noticed the next phase of the transfer in action: staging boxes for barcoding (each box gets a unique barcode, which gets scanned and linked to the collection record in CLIO), and then loading them onto the wooden ReCAP carts to await transfer. The carts hold five record cartons or 20 document boxes, and we filled 60 carts!

Large wooden shelving units on wheels, each containing about twenty archive storage boxes, at the Burke Library
Wooden carts full of archival storage boxes, on level L4 of the Burke Library, awaiting transfer to the ReCAP offsite storage facility

All together, we sent 1,019 boxes from 34 collections off-site this summer. That creates a lot of space! We’re aiming for one more similarly sized ReCAP transfer in December. In the meantime, I hope to continue meeting lots of wonderful students, staff, and faculty, presenting “intro to archives” sessions for classes, and getting to know the collections and treasures housed here at the Burke Library.

If you’ve got questions about archives (such as: so, what are archives? What does an archivist do?), about collections at the Burke, about using archival materials in your research or in your class, or about anything at all, please be in touch! Say hello any time, in person on L4, or online at

And in honor of American Archives Month, here are some archive-y things I’m thinking about this month:

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