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Scene at MIT: Setting up camp under the Dome

Despite construction and a pandemic, MIT Distinctive Collections staff continue their work.
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Photo of imaging equipment surrounded by a black tent inside a library room with ornate columns
MIT Libraries staff built a pop-up imaging workstation under Barker Library's Great Dome.

It sounds like a prank — a tent pitched under the Great Dome in the middle of the Barker Library Reading Room. But this tent was all library business, erected to provide the Institute community access to materials critical for teaching and research.

Last August, after MIT Distinctive Collections was displaced from Building 14 to Barker Library due to the Hayden Library renovation, they set up work spaces along the perimeter of the Great Dome to allow staff to adequately social distance — all except for one large copy stand, which was too tall to fit. Of course, the Dome has plenty of ceiling height, but it also has a 27-foot oculus, which made it difficult to control the lighting and reflection necessary for imaging work.

“We had to get creative and decided to literally ‘pop a tent’ in the Dome,” says Jenn Morris, digital imaging manager. “It served its purpose well and allowed us to properly control the lighting to ensure we could produce the best images possible.”

The “tent” was constructed of four studio background stands, each supported with 25-pound weighted bags, and three panels of fire-retardant blackout backdrop fabric. With this clever setup, the staff was able to fulfill more than 500 imaging requests, ranging from manuscripts to rare books, and produce more than 20,000 images since September.

Submitted by: MIT Libraries | Photo by: Jenn Morris

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