Moving the JHUP book archive (AKA Project Silverfish)

By Davida G. Breier


I became the fulfillment operations manager for Hopkins Fulfillment Services (HFS) in January 2010. My job description included several tangential tasks, including ordering archive copies of recently released titles and the laissez-faire management of the off-site JHUP archive. For many years HFS had its own distribution warehouse, but in 2001 HFS partnered with Maple Logistics Solutions and stock was moved to Pennsylvania. At that point, the archive was transferred to a warehouse in Hampden, a Baltimore neighborhood near JHUP’s offices. After several failed attempts to visit the archive location, I finally made it there in July 2013.


The warehouse served multiple purposes, including being a print shop and graveyard for unloved office furniture. Unfortunately, it was ill-suited for the purpose of archiving books. The space wasn’t climate controlled, and it was immediately evident that damage was occurring from damp, dust, and possibly very small wildlife.

Furthermore, the books were shelved in such a way as to appeal to spelunkers. Bringing order to chaos is probably my greatest strength (and weakness). I immediately, and naively, offered to take on moving the books to a safe, dry location.


Initially, I thought this would be a simple project. I calculated supplies, time, space, and cost based on spreadsheets, and spreadsheets never lie.

The project estimate was based on existing data about the archive.

I completely underestimated how many books were in really storage. Ultimately, there were almost twice as many as the data led me to believe. I also underestimated how much I would grow to hate the feel of sticky, dusty plastic shrink wrap used to protect the books a decade or more ago. The plastic (and its deterioration) became the bane of this project.

In the end, I told the JHUP director that it would take three months to complete the project . . . three months in dog years, apparently.


Paul Peroutka, Malcolm Wallace, Erik Smist, and I moved the books from the warehouse to a Press conference room in stages. Initially, Cordellia Yokum and I worked on cataloging books, but other HFS projects demanded our time, so I hired two student workers over the course of the project to help clean and catalog. Darlene Sparks, Olakunle Omolabi, and Linda Edmonds all helped clean and bag the books. Malcolm built countless boxes. This was a team effort that took two years to complete.

Because the books had spent years in the warehouse, we had to deal with some damp, dust, and mold. We kept a dehumidifier and an air purifier going at all times in the conference room. The shrink wrap used to initially protect the books had begun to damage them. Over time, it contracted and began sticking to books with glossy dust jackets and laminated covers. It had to be cut off carefully, and the residue had to be removed from the books with minute amounts of Goo Gone. Once clean and dry, the books were bagged and ready to be cataloged.

For ease of locating books, and in the interest of possibly working with the JHU Sheridan Libraries in the future, we decided to organize the books by year. For example, box 1965C contains books published in 1965. Each book in the box was placed in a sealed Mylar bag stickered with a 1965C label. As boxes were filled, they were transported to the new storage facility and arranged in stacks by year.

When assessing materials and cost, I realized that a childhood spent in comic book stores was finally useful (and no one is more concerned about budget-conscious, semi-fanatical preservation than comic book aficionados). We used archival quality Mylar bags, short boxes, and wraparounds that allowed the boxes to be paired and then stacked.

Paul transported completed boxes to the EZ Storage facility, two blocks south of the Press buildings. During the course of the project he had to navigate ongoing construction on Charles Street and the 26th Street collapse.


The revised count of books in the archive totaled 16,545, with an additional 86 books added that were found, but were not yet in our database. Total books in the archive now stands at over 17,000, with new books added each month. For new books, we use month and year to catalog (e.g., the first December 2015 box will be labeled 201512A).


The final step of the project was making the books more visible in Allbooks, our internal database. Allbooks manager Bob Oeste created a new section in the database and imported all the new archive locations into it.

The archive now holds more than 17,000 volumes, with new books added each month.

Within the first few weeks of completion of the project we had more requests to view and use archive books than we had in the last four years.

One book was scanned to create a print on demand file. As we look back at the books in the archive, we are also looking forward at the potential these books hold. They now stand the chance of coming back into print and being added to existing scholarship. And order was brought to chaos.

Davida G, Breier is the fulfillment operations manager for HFS at Johns Hopkins University Press.