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If all the books were laid end-to-end: Story problems with Hale Library

It’s done! Thanks to hundreds of workers putting in thousands of hours, more than 1.5 million collection items have been packed out of Hale Library. The herculean effort was completed on September 20, a little less than 17 weeks after the fire.

Maybe you work with objects in quantities of 1.5 million on a regular basis and can easily wrap your head around how big this project was. But if that’s not the case, we’ve crafted some comparisons to help everyone visualize the scope of the situation.

If the average storage box filled with books weighs 15 pounds and a large blue whale weighs 300,000 pounds, then 147,400 boxes would weigh more than 1,105.5 tons, which is the equivalent of more than 7 blue whales.

If each item measures 10 inches long and there are 5,280 feet in a mile, then all of Hale Library’s 1.5 million collection items laid end-to-end would stretch from Manhattan to Tulsa, Okla.

If a storage box measures 12 inches and Mt. Everest is 29,035 feet high, then 147,400 boxes stacked on top of each other would stretch higher than 5 Mt. Everests.

The Backstory

So how did this massive pack-out all start? The first things to leave Hale Library after the May 22 fire were the wet materials in Room 117.

A row of political science books in several different colors on a white metal shelf is lit by flashlight.
In addition to the items in Room 117, the books behind the Library Help Desk on the second floor were soaked, too. As water caused them to expand and press against each other, the wet volumes began to arc off of the shelves.
After the wet books were packed out, their outlines were starkly visible in the soot that coated the white metal shelves. May 31, 2018. 

Those 4,000 boxes of wet books were shipped in refrigerated trucks to a Belfor preservation lab in Ft. Worth, Tex. The materials were freeze-dried, cleaned and treated with ozone. More than ninety percent were deemed salvageable.

After the wet books were safely out of the building, volumes from second, third and fourth floors were packed up.

The last items to leave Hale Library came out of the Richard L. D. & Marjorie Morse Department of Special Collections on the fifth floor.

A worker surrounded by boxes wears a headlamp and yellow hard hat and vest while writing in a notebook that rests on a bookshelf next to her.
Belfor workers pack special collections materials out of the Morse Department of Special Collections’ Stack H. August 31, 2018.
Next to a long row of bookshelves, a worker wearing a black hooded jacket and a headlamp over a white construction hat kneels while placing a cookbook in a box with one hand and taking notes with the other.
A crew member packs volumes from the cookery collection, which is one of the top research collections of its kind in the United States. It contains thousands of cookbooks and related volumes that date from 1487 to the present. August 31, 2018.

So from beginning to end, the pack-out started in late May on the hot, humid first floor, and it ended in late September in a chilly, air-conditioned Stack H, just above Hale Library’s fourth floor.

Woman wearing white hard hat, ventilation mask and neon orange emergency vest works by flashlight and pulls a large red book off of a bookshelf.Kathryn Talbot, K-State Libraries’ preservation coordinator, at work in the stacks. July 5, 2018. 

Does that give you a better idea of how big this project was? No?

Here’s another story problem: If 15 books fit in each box, and 40 boxes were stacked on one pallet, and 24 pallets were packed onto every truckload that left Hale Library, then the 1.5 million items required 104 semi trucks.

In an underground building with rough white stone walls, a man in a black t-shirt and shorts stands by the tail-end of an open semi trailer and directs the driver on backing up.
A semi truck backs a load of boxes into the Libraries’ cave space at Underground Vaults & Storage in Kansas City, Mo. August 13, 2018. 

Until Hale Library is renovated, all of the books—approximately 147,400 boxes of them—will be stored in four different air-conditioned warehouses across the region. Because of the soot damage, books will be individually cleaned, re-boxed and stored until they can be returned to campus.

Hundreds of boxes fill an underground cave with white-painted rough rock walls and gray concrete floors.
In the Kansas City caves. August 22, 2018.
Hundreds of boxes fill an underground cave with white-painted rough rock walls and gray concrete floors.
Until then, old friends, be well! (And, yes, I’m talking to the books. We really love our collection.)

It is a huge relief to have the entire collection safely out of the building and know that it will come home to a new, improved Hale Library.

Thank you to everyone who worked on this project. We hope you can take a few days off to catch your breath: You deserve a break before you start planning how we’ll move it all back!

Original infographics created by Katherine Kistler, K-State Libraries graphic design student employee.

6 thoughts on “If all the books were laid end-to-end: Story problems with Hale Library
    1. The books in the caves still need to cleaned! It will be a long process, and as they clean, they’ll have to find new storage spaces for the clean books so they aren’t recontaminated by the dirty ones. The logistics are mind-boggling — but we have some amazing folks from the Belfor Property Restoration coordinating this effort.

  1. Thanks for this “illuminating” visual of the enormity of the labor of love by so many individuals dedicated to restoring Hale Library to its ultimate grandeur. Your efforts are an inspiration to all K-Staters and certainly supports the KSU Foundation’s slogan of “Boldly Advancing K-State Family.”

    1. We’re working now with PGAV architects to create the NEW master plan, which we’re very excited about! But unfortunately, the insurance process isn’t finalized yet, and until those negotiations are complete, we can’t offer a definite timeline. We will keep everyone posted, though!

  2. My heart was broken to hear about the fire and water damage. Leave it to the Wildcats to pull together in recovery. Thank you to all who have participated in this labor of love.

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