By Ms. Maureen Rose (IMCOM)April 30, 2010
Military Families can tell you which box is the heaviest when they move to a new duty station-it's the one with all the books!
Just imagine the challenge of packing and moving 20,000 books.
That's exactly what Robert Hansen will be responsible for when the Armor School Library is relocated to Fort Benning, Ga. next year with the rest of the Armor Center.
"We are going through the collection now to eliminate excess materials or those in poor condition," said Hansen, the Armor School librarian. "We will have 20,000 physical books to take. We also have a large collection of journals, student papers, and historical reports as well as specific Armor School documents like class rosters."
Not only is the weight of books an issue, but Hansen said there are a few other requirements that he's learned from the two previous moves just from one building to another on Fort Knox.
"The books must be kept in their specific order as they are on the shelf now so they can be put back on the shelf in the same order," he said. "The Fort Benning library staff will come to Fort Knox to see how the books are packed and have some idea of how it should look when unpacked."
During a previous move, Hansen said some lieutenants were required to help with the packing in their off-duty time. The staff was out-numbered by 10 lieutenants for every one librarian. Without enough supervision, the lieutenants sought the fastest solution. They found a large refrigerator-sized box, filled it with books, then sealed up the box. They needed six men to carry it on their shoulders-a la casket-to the new building, where they unceremonially plopped it down.
"It took me months to put things back in the correct order," Hansen recalled. "A misplaced book might as well be missing."
Another problem for the library is the specialized nature of the books. The Dewey decimal system calls for books about tanks to be filed under 358.18. However, the Armor School Library has thousands of books about tanks, which can't all be identified by the Dewey file number alone.
In anticipation of the move, Hansen said, many volumes of publications have been digitized such as editions of the Turret dating back to forty years. Once something is digitized, the paper copy isn't quite as critical, but it still isn't discarded.
"The purpose of digitization is to allow handling without damage, not necessarily so the original can be destroyed," he explained. "Many times the digital version isn't clear enough to be legible, or sometimes the scanners inadvertently omit things."
Even obsolete field manuals have been digitized, for a surprising number of uses.
Hansen said the Army came to him for help when Operation Desert Storm began. No one had much experience with tanks in the desert, so reference materials were sought from World War II's north Africa campaign. The old FMs and even some letters from Gen. George Patton were consulted in order to create the "Tanks in the Desert" pamphlet until more formal guidance was printed.
Another time, government officials sold older model tanks to a foreign country, but realized they didn't have any manuals to include with instructions on maintenance or repair of the tanks. Again, the Armor School Library's old FM collection was consulted, then translated into the appropriate language in order to accompany the transfer of the tanks.
Obviously, the Armor School Library is not your typical book-loaning institution. The library's mission is to support the students, staff, and faculty of the Armor School as well as the Armor Force worldwide, while its ancillary mission includes preserving the history and role of armor, Hansen said.
"People come to us with tactical questions about vehicles, unit history, biographics, and so on. We get questions from all over the world," Hansen said. "We are the epicenter of armor, along with the Patton Museum, Armor Branch, and armor historian."
The library's reference librarian is Lorraine Allen, who said that virtually all the reference work is accomplished through the Internet; questions and answers reach her desk from sources all over the world.
"I even get queries from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.
In addition to individual question-and-answer research, Allen compiles the armor version of an Early Bird, a compendium of current events pertinent to armor and cavalry Soldiers. She sends that compilation to nearly 1,000 recipients two or three times each week.
"I think I'm busier now than I was when I did the same compilation in a hard copy form," she said.
While some libraries seem to be going the way of pet rocks and Hoola-hoops, thanks to the Internet, Hansen and Allen agree that the Armor School Library is a well-used resource.
"Fewer books are being checked out, but the ones we have are used more as we refer to them to answer questions," Hansen explained.
The library is also used by many of the students attending the Armor School, and Hansen believes a library should be adaptable to its users. The days of hushed tones and funereal expressions are gone.
"Soldiers are welcome to use the library as they need to," Hansen said. "Many of them come here to read during their lunch breaks; food and drinks are okay."
While the environment of the library has evolved, Hansen said he doesn't believe libraries and hard copy books will ever be replaced by electronic versions.
"So much information is available now on the Internet, but it's not necessarily correct," he said. "And many books are not on the Internet-such as those that are out of print. But that doesn't mean they aren't still good resources."
Hansen said he anticipates there will be a learning curve for the Benning staff because none of the Knox library personnel will move to Georgia. He will be retiring from 33 years of government service.
"I haven't found a way to screw off the top of my head and pour its contents into someone else's head," Hansen said with a laugh. "We can't discover a way to preserve the institutional knowledge that will go with me."
However, he is confident that the Armor School Library will survive to serve armor students.
"There are no plans calling for a combined library with infantry," he said. "The Armor library and magazine will still exist in their own facility."
Armor's rich heritage is extensive, and the library proves it.
"My favorite artifact is a journal dating back to 1888," Hansen said, referring to Volume 1, number 1 of the Journal of the U.S. Cavalry Association, which evolved into Armor magazine. "We don't want to be swallowed up by the much larger branch of infantry."