Press \\ Press Releases

Statement regarding PEM’s Phillips Library

Released December 8, 2017

The Peabody Essex Museum’s Phillips Library is one of New England’s major research libraries. The Library contains large and important collections related to the art, history, and culture of Essex County, New England, and many other parts of the world. The Library is used each year by approximately eight hundred on-site researchers -- most from areas outside Salem -- as well as hundreds of digital researchers who access the Library’s collection and catalog from around the globe.

Since 2011, the Phillips Library collection and operations have been located at a temporary Museum Collection Center located in Peabody. This move was required to undertake renovation and new construction work at the Museum, including approximately $9 million worth of critically needed preservation and renovation work on Plummer Hall and Daland House, the two historic buildings which previously housed the Phillips Library.

In the process of moving the collection to Peabody, the Museum was able to carefully catalog and assess the hundreds of thousands of books, manuscripts, broadsides and periodicals that comprise the collection. As part of this work, the Museum undertook a major initiative to digitize the catalog which has made 250,000 records from the Library’s collection available to researchers worldwide through OCLC/Worldcat. This, combined with the work of eight dedicated library staff members who assist our digital and onsite users, has made PEM’s Phillips Library collection more widely and frequently accessed than ever before.

To steward the Phillips Library collection at the highest standards, proper storage and climate control are required. The collection, which was largely held in compact storage in the Stacks Annex, has now been readied for proper archival storage which will take an astonishing amount of space -- over 42,000 linear feet (nearly 8 miles) of shelf storage. The Stacks Annex, which is not large enough to accommodate current storage demands, is also out of compliance with building code and, due to the way it was originally constructed, it cannot be retrofitted and must be taken down. Additionally, after careful architectural analysis of Plummer Hall and Daland House, it has become apparent that the climate control needs of the collection are at odds with the structural realities of these historic buildings; a solution simply which cannot be achieved in a cost effective manner in the near term.

These logistical challenges have led to a great opportunity: to unify the Museum’s renowned art and culture collection with the Phillips Library collection at new 112,000-square-foot Collections Center located in Rowley. This new center, which keeps the Library collection accessible in Essex County, will become operational by mid-2018 and will feature highly secure, climate-controlled space for storage for the collections and extremely handsome and functional spaces for a Library reading room, staff offices, conservation, and other operations. The Library will continue to welcome researchers from around the world and PEM’s skilled librarians will continue to assist patrons during the reading room’s public hours.

The Phillips Library collection is an essential part of the Museum and of New England’s heritage. We fully recognize our stewardship responsibilities for this collection and we have raised and invested millions of dollars to fulfill these responsibilities. Since 2011, PEM has invested more than $2 million to create a consistent catalogue of the entire Library collection and to make the catalog of the collection accessible online. Since 2011, the Museum has spent more than $3 million to support Library operations and we will spend more than $3.5 million over the next five years to continue to support Library operations.

At a recent Salem Historic Commission meeting we heard from many residents who expressed their concerns about the plans for the Library collection. In order to share the Museum’s Library plans in a more in-depth manner and to answer questions, we warmly encourage interested residents to attend a public meeting on the evening of Thursday, January 11th at 6pm in PEM’s Morse Auditorium.

We are gratified that many Salem residents are deeply committed to our heritage and to the Phillips Library and we look forward to explaining in greater detail why stewardship dictates that the Phillips Library collections and operations will be located in Rowley rather than Salem for the next several years.

Sincerely,
Dan L. Monroe
PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO

Frequently Asked Questions about the Phillips Library


Q: What is in the Phillips Library collection?
A: The Phillips Library collection is comprised of several hundred thousand books, manuscripts, periodicals, pamphlets, maps, charts, photographs and documents related to the art, culture and history of New England, Essex County and various regions around the world. The collection features collections that are global in nature, including the largest known Western language collection on the history of Imperialist China and the papers of Edward Sylvester Morse, the “father of Japanese archaeology.” 90% of the collection is searchable through online catalog records on the OCLC/WorldCat; nearly 30% of the Phillips Library collections are unique, and cannot be found anywhere else; and another 24% are extremely rare, with fewer than 10 other copies found in other libraries around the world. For more information detailing the collection categories of the Phillips Library, please visit: https://www.pem.org/visit/library/collections/collection-categories

Q: How many people use the library each year?
A: Approximately eight hundred on-site researchers -- most from areas outside Salem -- as well as hundreds of digital researchers who access the Library’s catalog and online resources from around the globe. Since 1997, the Phillips Library collections have been used as a research resource by the authors of 61 books and 17 exhibition catalogs, and they have been the basis for 38 PhD dissertations. The library is also used extensively by PEM staff for developing and researching specific exhibitions at the museum.

Q: Why did the library collection move out of Salem in 2011?
A: The move was required to undertake approximately $9 million worth of critically needed preservation and renovation work on Plummer Hall and Daland House, the two historic buildings which previously housed the Phillips Library.

Q: How have researchers accessed the collection since 2011?
A: The Phillips Library collection and operations have been located at a temporary Museum Collection Center located in Peabody since 2011. Researchers have been able to access the collection at the Museum Collection Center reading room through appointment or during public open hours.

In the process of moving the collection to Peabody, PEM undertook a multi-million dollar initiative to make the collection catalog accessible online and available to researchers worldwide through OCLC/Worldcat. This, combined with the work of a dedicated team of library staff who assist our digital and onsite users, PEM’s Phillips Library collection has been more widely and frequently accessed in recent years than ever before.

Q: How has library usage changed since the collection moved out of Salem in 2011?
A: From 2009 to 2011, when the library collection was located in Salem, an average of 4,415 individual items were requested and examined in the reading room. From 2014 to 2016, when the library collection was located in Peabody, an average of 5,492 individual items were requested and examined in the reading room, representing a collection usage increase of 24%.

Q: Why can’t the library collections be moved back to Plummer Hall and Daland House?
A: Prior to the removal of the Phillips Library collection from Plummer Hall and Daland House, available storage space in the building had become inadequate for the size of the collection and environmental conditions in the buildings did not meet current standards for temperature and humidity control for library collections. Once the library collection was removed from the structures, it was determined that substantial maintenance and repair work to the building fabric was required, including exterior work to the roof, windows and facades. Exterior work has been carried out and now new mechanical, electrical, and fire safety systems must be installed in Plummer Hall and Daland House in order to bring the buildings into compliance with current code requirements.

There is no feasible way to bring the Stacks Annex -- the back wing of Daland House built in 1966 that previously housed a majority of the Phillips Library collection -- into compliance with current codes. Due to the way it was originally constructed, the Stacks Annex cannot be retrofitted with sprinkler systems or sufficient access or egress to meet current code requirements for disabled access or fire safety. In order to make the entire building code compliant, the Stacks Annex must be removed.

Removing the Stacks Annex will make it impossible to return all but a small percentage of the library collections to Salem. Further, the collection, which was previously held in densely-packed storage, has now been readied for proper archival storage which will take a tremendous amount of space -- over 42,000 linear feet (nearly 8 miles) of shelf storage that is far in excess of what Plummer Hall and Daland House can hold.

Q: Why couldn’t a suitable collection storage building be found closer to Salem?
A: PEM undertook an exhaustive search for a building that could adequately house the entirety of the collection, provide climate control of the highest standards and allow efficient access for museum staff and researchers, alike. The new Collection Center in Rowley was the closest building that met all of these requirements while remaining in Essex County.

The Collection Center in Rowley will allow PEM to provide the unprecedented stewardship, preservation and care for library collections while continuing to serve library patrons. Researchers will benefit greatly from being able to access library holdings and collection holdings at the same location, allowing a more holistic and cross-disciplinary approach. The Collection Center will include new spaces not possible at Plummer Hall and Daland House devoted to supporting the preservation and use of the collections, including a conservation laboratory, where treatment will be carried out on books and manuscripts from the library collections.

Q: How do I access the library collection in Rowley?
The Phillips Library reading room at PEM’s Collection Center will open in spring 2018. The reading room will have posted public hours and researchers can continue to access the collection by appointment by emailing research@pem.org

Q: What will happen to Plummer Hall and Daland House? Can Salem residents still access the Saltonstall Reading Room there?
The Saltonstall Reading Room will be open to the public during normal museum operating hours and will be installed with books pertaining to PEM’s ongoing exhibition program. The Dow Period Rooms will all be freshly reinstalled and existing office spaces in Daland House will continue to be used as museum staff offices.

Q: How is PEM working with Salem's Preservation Partners group?
PEM is collaborating with the city’s Preservation Partners working group to determine:
1) what Phillips Library collection items relevant to Salem's heritage can safely be made accessible to the public in Plummer Hall and Daland House
2) a suggested list of Phillips Library collection items that should be prioritized for digitization
3) how PEM can provide technical assistance regarding best practices for the storage and conservation of historic collections housed at other Salem cultural, civic and historic organizations