FORT MEADE, Md. -- The Library of Congress got a little bit of breathing room, thanks to a pair of scissors.

With a ceremonial ribbon cutting July 13, the library officially opened new expansions to its High-Density Storage Facility on Fort Meade to store items currently housed at its Capitol Hill headquarters.

The $32 million project brought the existing facility two new "special collection areas," called modules three and four, as well as four cold storage rooms. Together, the rooms will allow the building, which currently stores about 4 million items, to house an additional 33 million pieces such as maps, manuscripts, microfilm, photographs, prints and globes.

About 60 people attended the afternoon event. Librarian of Congress James Billington cut the ribbon alongside acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers and Lt. Col. John Osborn of the Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

The facility was constructed after Fort Meade transferred an estimated 100 acres of property in 1994 to the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that manages government facilities on Capitol Hill. The High-Density Storage Facility, which initially included just one module to store books, opened in 2002. A second module was added four years later.

All together, the library is planning for 13 storage modules. However, it is unknown when work on the next module will begin. A request in the 2010 fiscal year budget was rejected, although the library aims to resubmit the request, said Steven Herman, the library's chief of the Collections, Access, Loan and Management Division.

While the future may be uncertain, Billington maintained that the new structures would allow the library to continue its work of preserving history. "One never knows what the future will require of the past," he said at the event.

The warehouse-like rooms provide needed storage for the world's largest library collection, which has about 138 million catalogued items and adds about 10,000 new pieces every day, according to its Web site.

"We've got books on the floor," Herman said. "We've got a waiting list. We can't accommodate all the material."

Storage areas are kept at cool temperatures. The bulk of the facility hovers around 50 degrees, while cold storage rooms are kept as low as 25 degrees. Combined with humidity control, items can last six times longer than if stored at room temperature in the Library of Congress.

Although the additions were unveiled this week, items won't be relocated to Fort Meade for several months as workers prepare the rooms, Herman said.

"It's the same as when you move into a house," said Gary Capriotti, facility manager of the storage building. "There are last-minute things you take care of before you move in."

Page last updated Wed July 15th, 2009 at 16:09