Attack Puts Squeeze on Pentagon Library

Attack Puts Squeeze
on Pentagon Library

�It�s truly a national treasure. The collection was built partly from the War Department Library. . . . It was there during World War II, and it�s been there ever since.� �Ann Parham

(American Libraries Editor and Publisher Leonard Kniffel interviewed Army Librarian Ann Parham on November 6, 2002. Parham is responsible for policy and advocacy for the Army Library Program, which comprises about 275 libraries around the world. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.)

American Libraries: Before September 11, 2001, there was a Pentagon Library as an entity. Now, there isn�t. Can you say why?

Ann Parham: The area that was designed for it was reallocated after September 11 to another Army organization. Because the Pentagon is undergoing a 10-year renovation, space was already an issue and offices were being shifted around, so once the attack occurred, the space crunch got worse and the space was allocated to another organization by the senior leadership. . . . They moved it then to the Taylor Building, which is about a 15-minute bus ride from the Pentagon.

In March 2002, a small reference center of about 1,200�1,300 square feet was set up on the concourse in the Pentagon with just some basic reference materials and a few work stations. The reference librarians . . . circulate materials there, and people can request materials and they will be brought over from the Taylor Building. . . . And of course the Pentagon Library does have a Web site, so people can get in it and ask a librarian there, and they can call for reference questions so they are still providing reference service and still providing circulating service, but it�s just that it�s not easy to browse the collection or come in and do any kind of study. There�s no place to do that anymore.

AL: What�s the plan for the future?

Parham: We�ve heard that it may move into the old PAC [Pentagon Athletic Club], but that�s way down the road because the new . . . 120,000�square foot PAC which is being built won�t be finished for several years, so I don�t think . . . probably at least two years, �04 before they can move in and then they have to renovate the old PAC, the old one that they are moving out of. What�s been mentioned is that it may not be as large, because the thinking is that the library doesn�t need that much space because they can digitize and use compact shelving. However, the library was already heavily using compact shelving for three years, and the materials that would lend themselves to easy digitization are the military documents, and they only take up maybe 2,000 square feet. It�s my understanding, according to the former director, they had a non-growth policy for years . . . Whenever they added materials they had to get rid of something. . . .

There has also been talk of an interim solution, and that is moving it into a modular building on the south side of the Pentagon. . . . If they could get approval to do that, that supposedly would be able to happen within six to nine months. The Pentagon Library Users Group is exploring that option.

AL: Can you say just a few words about the Pentagon Library Users Group?

Parham: That came out of a spontaneous group of users within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the other services [and] . . . came to the attention of some of the senior leadership in OSD, so they put someone in that office in charge of working with the Pentagon Library service unit. . . . [The group is] made up of 10 or 12 users like policy-makers, historians, lawyers, folks who actually use the library, and they are working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense to try to make sure that the library is returned to the Pentagon.

AL: Who uses the library?

Parham: The 23,000 people who work at the Pentagon are the potential users. It�s pretty heavily used by the action officers because most of the materials that they need are historical, older materials that are not available on the Web, not available anywhere except maybe in that library because they have reference collections of military documents that . . . are accessible to [for example] the lawyers to defend the Air Force or the Army, or whoever, in [legal] cases. . . . Those kinds of things. I�m not a reference librarian here so I know that there are lots of other ways the collection�s used that I�m not really that familiar with.

AL: To what extent is this a fight for the library�s survival?

Parham: The thing about the library is that it�s truly a national treasure. The collection was built partly from the War Department Library. . . . It was there during World War II, and it�s been there ever since, serving the folks in the Pentagon. I would hope [it�s not a fight for survival]. I think it�s just going through a bad phase.

AL: How is service to the clients?

Parham: People can�t get to the books here; they�re closed stacks. I think their circ has gone down. They are still doing reference, but patrons can�t get in to look or come and browse.

AL: To what extent can you have a Pentagon Library that�s not in the Pentagon?

Parham: That�s a good question, isn�t it?

AL: Who is really going to determine the future of the library?

Parham: I really don�t know the answer. The Secretary of Defense may have to decide.

AL: Can you characterize this as a fight for space?

Parham: It is, it is.

AL: What is the library�s responsibility for demonstrating its worth?

Parham: I think that�s where user statistics come into play, and you have to use those very wisely, collect them, and you have to be able to show that the time that it takes for someone to come here versus being able to just walk down the hall to the library costs . . . money and time that many of those action officers don�t have. I think proving value has always been hard to do, and I�m not sure that we�ve really learned how to do that very well. We�ve got numbers. They were answering 1,140 reference questions a month before September 11, and that may be low because I don�t know that they do a good job of counting.

AL: How�s morale?

Parham: I don�t think it�s very good. Let�s put it this way: I think they�ve lost about nine people [from a staff of 21] since September 11.

AL: Do you think it�s important for the library to demonstrate that it is essential to the war effort?

Parham: I do absolutely. I think it is definitely essential to the war effort. There have been several examples of users who needed information that�s only in that library. They were writing staff papers to go up to the senior leadership on current operations, future operations, and they could not get many of the materials that they needed . . . to include in the papers they were writing. . . . I have examples from people of how they�ve used the library over the years-whether it�s in research and development or writing contracts or researching DOD reorganization and how it was done when the Department of Defense was set up. All the paperwork on that is in this library, and when they were going to do a reorganization, here in the last couple of years under Rumsfeld, they needed all that information, so they went back and looked at it. Now it would be pretty hard to find. It�s here, but you can�t get to it. . . .

In terms of a definitive collection on defense-related matters, this one and a few others around are the only places. It is the only place that holds a number of things and frequently gets calls for interlibrary loan. It is a unique collection. It�s the aggregate of that collection that makes it so valuable. . . . It�s a valuable research library.

AL: When you found out after September 11 that the library was going to start being jerked around in this grab for space at the Pentagon, what was the first sign? Didn�t you think everything would be rebuilt and go on as before?

Parham: Oh, sure. I was shocked. I couldn�t believe it when they actually said they were going to move the library.

AL: What was the reason you were given?

Parham: They needed the space for war fighters.

AL: What do you say in the face of that?

Parham: The most important tool of the war fighters in this building is knowledge, and those tools are in the library. The arsenal of the Pentagon is knowledge to make the right decisions, and the arsenal of knowledge�the library�supports them in doing it, [is] their greatest weapon.