Preserving History: Tennessee State Library & Archives debuts new building

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee State Library and Archives has a new home. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Monday to celebrate the unveiling in Nashville.

It’s 165,000 square-feet and three stories tall, but inside you’ll find more than three stories. You’ll find the history of Tennessee.

Chuck Sherrill, State Librarian and Archivist, gave News 2 an exclusive tour of the building. He said this was a much needed upgrade.

“We have a lovely old building on Capitol Hill that was specially built to be the Library and Archives in 1953. The public parts of that building were beautiful, but it was way too small for the collection as it had grown over the last 70 years,” said Sherrill.

The collection includes 360,000 books and journals, 50,330 cassettes of legislative recordings, 12,500 boxes of state government records, 8,750 boxes of Supreme Court case files, 6,635 boxes of Governors’ papers, and 5,000 maps.

“We estimate that if we had to put everything on one big shelf, it would stretch for 26 miles,” said Sherrill.

The space also provides access to unique pieces of literature.

“The rare book room represents some of the fine books in our collection. This library began in 1853 in the Capitol. Libraries are essential to democracy that people need to be able to look at the documents created by and for their government, in order to understand how government works and what government is doing,” explained Sherrill.

Sherrill has been involved in the project since the 1990s. However, planning didn’t begin until 2005, when money was allocated for it. He said that funding has gone into creating a number of experiences the public will enjoy.

There are several interactive screens in the lobby for the public to enjoy. These include maps which show the differences in county boundaries throughout the state. There are also educational games.

Sherrill said technology is at the forefront of the building’s design.

“A huge feature of this building, a very important one, is our robotic retrieval system,” he emphasized.

Myers Brown is the Director or Archival Collection Services. He explained how the system works.

“We have around over 8,000 bins that will carry the book materials. And we’ve got over 700 shelving units that will hold the archival materials. It’s relatively new in the archives and library world. We’re the only one in the state of Tennessee that operates a system like this. You couldn’t have a human climbing up into the system, pulling books, pulling archival materials, and then bringing it back to a station,” explained Brown.

The space is climate controlled and allows for a more efficient process.

“A patron will send a request through; it comes to the terminals here in the operator area; an archivist on duty will look at that request; then release it to the to the robot; the robot will bring that shelving unit or that van to the workstation. They check it out, put it on a cart, and send it down to public services. We should be able to get the request and get it into people’s hands in less than ten minutes is our goal,” Brown said.

The books then end up in the Grand Tennessee Reading Room. The room is filled with the most frequently used items.

“This includes over 10,000 family genealogies, and then in the back the Tennessee Collection, which is histories of Tennessee and books about Tennessee counties grouped together,” Sherrill pointed out.

He added he can’t wait to see younger generations enjoy it, “My dream is to see this room full of a class full of eighth graders all working on their family history project or Tennessee history project and just enjoying this big nice space and learning at the same time.”

All involved in the project said this building is part of a bigger purpose.

“We have an obligation to keep these things available, you know. Well beyond our lifetime. For the next generations to use and benefit from these materials,” said Brown.

“It is our mission given to us in the Tennessee code to preserve and to make it available -the documentary history of Tennessee,” Sherrill concluded. “It’s kind of funny to think about robotics and documents from the 1800s, but they have been brought together in this building. “

To learn more about the new Tennessee State Library and Archives building, click here.

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