Starting today, any historian wishing to do detailed government records research is more likely to head for College Park than to The Mall in downtown Washington. With the opening of the $300 million National Archives building on the University of Maryland's flagship campus, serious scholars finally have a high-tech, modern home worthy of the work they will be doing.
The enormous, green-windowed structure could make College Park a mecca for historians. Nearly half the size of the Pentagon, the building (known as "Archives II" since the agency's headquarters will remain in D.C.) will contain nearly all post-World War II government records.
By 1996, the building will store 631,000 cubic feet of textual records; 45,000 cubic feet of maps and architectural records; 38,000 cubic feet of motion pictures, audio tapes and video tapes; 15,000 cubic feet of still pictures; 1,400 cubic feet of electronic records and 35,000 cubic feet for the Nixon presidential collection.
A total of 520 miles of motorized shelving will store billions of documents in climate-controlled vaults. There will also be the arcane and trivial to examine, such as Eva Braun's personal snapshots of Adolf Hitler, the coffee mug Liberace once presented to Richard Nixon and maps from Lewis and Clark's expeditions to the Pacific Northwest. Scholars will work in state-of-the-art areas with air locks to keep out contaminants. The windows are green-coated to protect documents from ultraviolet rays. And the entire building is designed with "earthquake joints" -- just in case of a temblor.
Marylanders can thank Rep. Steny Hoyer of Prince George's County for bringing this magnet of scholarly research to College Park. When he discovered the archives was looking for a new home, the congressman quickly arranged for a 33-acre site. Then he got money from the Appropriations Committee to plan the building. Two years later, in the ultimate coup, Mr. Hoyer got approval for a creative financing plan to pay for the College Park building: the sale of "trust certificates" by the archives backed by annual federal appropriations.
While College Park's Archives II will draw scholars to the UM campus, tourists will still flock to the aging National Archives Building on The Mall. There, visitors will be treated to exhibits of famous documents. The 1934 building will continue to store pre-World War II records as well.
Some 800 workers will be shifted to College Park after today's grand opening of Archives II. For them, it will be heaven to work in spacious, bright and ultra-modern facilities for a change. This country's historic records deserve a facility that encourages scholarly research and allows easy access to such a vast storehouse of material. If knowledge is power, Archives II is a heavyweight.