In recent years, the Library of Congress has become increasingly crowded. Its librarians have been forced to move collections and double-shelve books to make room for new arrivals.
But relief in the form of extra space should come soon -- at Fort Meade in western Anne Arundel County.
The library and the office of the Architect of the Capitol have started to build storage facilities at the military base.
Construction of the first storage module, along with its accompanying office space, loading docks, mechanical rooms, vestibule and circulation corridors, is scheduled to be complete next fall.
At a groundbreaking ceremony Friday, Alan M. Hantman, who works for the office of the Architect of the Capitol, said, "While we are building something new, we are doing something to honor our past. We are building to preserve the present as well as the past for those who will come after us."
The 8,500-square-foot storage module will hold 2 million books and bound periodicals in a climate-controlled environment, said Helen Dalrymple, a spokeswoman for the Library of Congress.
The materials to be stored will come from the library's general collection, which consists of about 17 million books.
Those materials include portions of the agricultural, medical and pre-1950 American fiction collections, as well as the library's Asian, African and Middle Eastern divisions.
After the storage module is complete, about 4,000 items will be moved daily during a 30-month period. "All of these are things that are less frequently called for," Dalrymple said.
The storage module will help the library preserve materials because the temperature and humidity of the facility can be controlled. At the library's Capitol Hill site, Dalrymple said, books are stored at room temperature.
The facility at Fort Meade will have a staff of six to 12 employees, and twice-daily deliveries of requested materials will be made to the library. Because no reading room will be built as part of the Meade storage facilities, material will be available to the public only at the Library of Congress in Washington.
Materials ordered in the morning will be available in the afternoon, and orders taken in the afternoon will be processed the next morning, Dalrymple said.
The military base was chosen as the site for the storage modules because of its proximity to Washington -- about a 30-minute drive, Dalrymple said.
The library has been renting storage space in Landover and Suitland in Prince George's County, and at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
The Library of Congress will be joining other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, with facilities on the 5,415-acre military base.
Civilians outnumber military personnel on the base, which once was an active combat support center.
The Army gave the office of the Architect of the Capitol 100 acres on the base in 1994. Congress appropriated $4.7 million for the library project.
Dalrymple said there will be 13 buildings, each with four storage modules and accompanying office and loading facilities.
"We're looking at building approximately every two years," Dalrymple said. "It will be a 50-year project."