Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Non-Convertible Space

The original title for this post was "When Space Will Not Funge." Sadly, although space can apparently be fungible (interchangeable), I could find no immediate support for what I imagined to be the active form of the verb. A pity. If something that is changeable can change, one expects that something that is fungible can funge.

Fungibility is most often used in relation to fiscal matters, such as when money saved in one area can be readily redirected to another. But library space can also be considered fungible, as suggested in an earlier post on "Space: The Final Frontier" in which we noted that 20,000 non-circulating volumes could yield 4,000 square feet of space for other uses. It is always tempting to think of users steadily claiming space from low-use print collections.

Recently, however, during a visit to the Catholic University of America's Mullen Library, it became painfully apparent that all shelf space is not equal--and that library space is not always easily interchangeable. CUA has worked assiduously over the past year to move approximately 25,000 volumes from the Mullen stacks to a remote storage facility. They looked particularly closely at the Education (L-LT) portion of their collection, and made significant reductions in the onsite collection, as the impressive gaps on these shelves indicate.

The no-circulation items have been boxed up and sent away. Several thousand linear feet had been cleared. With some consolidation of the remaining collection, and removal of a stack row or two, some noticeable, re-purposeable space had been created. Or had it?

Steve Connaghan, CUA's Library Director, quickly set us straight. Like many library buildings constructed during the"book-centered" paradigm, the Mullen Library's central stacks core was designed not only to hold books, but to support the building. This shelving cannot be removed without dire consequences.  Doubtless there are many buildings designed in this manner--a factor that had never occurred to me. Travel is so broadening.

To realize the benefit of its transfer and withdrawal decisions--and all the related record-maintenance work--CUA must now invest still more time and effort, shifting collections currently shelved in newer parts of the library into central stacks. Only then will additional space be available for users.This introduces yet another cost factor into the management of print collections--and to capitalizing on the responsible removal of unused items.

Even after shifting has consolidated the requisite space gains, it is sometimes difficult to reconfigure space that has formerly been used for stacks. The proportions of the rooms can be awkward. Creative redesign and professional assistance may be needed to render the space attractive and useful for other purpose. Furniture and equipment may need to be purchased.

Many of these factors can be anticipated and handled well with good planning. But the more time we spend thinking about the coming great migration of print volumes to storage and to digital archives, the more issues become apparent. There is so much to learn about lifecycle management of print collections...and so much to do. There are many benefits to be had, but substantial effort and investment will be required to produce them.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Canyons of Reference

For most of us of a certain age, print reference books and libraries are strongly associated. The indexes, encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases and other unwieldy but useful volumes were often the first stops in our information seeking in our, uh, formative years.

To see these tomes now in an active library evokes both memory and mystification. A print index to the New York Times? Really? Current to 2009? A bit surprising, especially when the primary access to the Times itself is via the online version. And yet I took these photos within the past two weeks.

At an extraordinarily busy time in this particular library, I was able to snap aisle after aisle, filled with books but empty of students (except for one, who used the privacy to make a call on his cell phone.) There is nothing especially unique about this library; I've had the same experience repeatedly in the 20-30 libraries I visit each year.

And what filled these interior canyons? Many useful books, well recalled from my own Introduction to Reference class in the early 90's at Simmons with Professor Allen Smith. But also with useful books that are clearly not used, and of a type which lends itself well to online access.

Meanwhile, at precisely the same time, around the corner from the last row of deserted stacks, was the scene below: note the gold-lettered sign on the top of the back wall.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Dumpster Dilemma

At some point, after careful preparation and informed decisions, every withdrawal project comes down to the final act: taking volumes off the shelves. If they are simply being moved to offsite storage, this poses little problem. But if they are actually being withdrawn and discarded, the process becomes a magnet for attention. As described in a previous post, 100,000 volumes must be removed to free 20,000 square feet. This is not a task that can or should be undertaken inconspicuously. Anticipating and managing the attention such a large-scale operation attracts should be done early, fully, and persistently. 

The most visible element of a sizable library de-selection project is likely to be a Dumpster, like the one dropped outside the Tutt Library at Colorado College this past July. The project at hand was removal of print backfiles of JSTOR titles. The Library had access to full-text digital versions of all this content, as well as access to print versions in several other libraries within Colorado. JSTOR content is of course securely archived via Portico. In short, these JSTOR backfiles met all of the criteria outlined in the Ithaka "What To Withdraw" framework.

In addition, the Library had informed teaching faculty that these withdrawals were about to occur, emphasizing that access to this content had actually increased. Everything had been planned as well as any library could plan it. During the first day of our visit, we periodically saw a student worker rolling carts of these volumes from the library's back door to the Dumpster. When we left at the end of that day, the container was about half full of old volumes.

Upon arrival at the library the next morning, we noticed that some summer-school students had spent an industrious night. The journal volumes had been hauled one-by-one from the container, and skillfully arranged into a sort of igloo. There was no way to know whether the mysterious builders intended to lodge a genial protest, or, more likely, found a trove of raw materials on which to unleash their considerable creativity.

Library Director Carol Dickerson and her staff handled the situation with humor and aplomb. A post, with photos, was added to the Library's blog, along with a message assuring the community about access to this material. The entire staff gathered in late morning to return the volumes to the Dumpster.

Because solid groundwork had been done by Tutt Library staff with the larger Colorado College community, this situation was not blown out of proportion by well-intentioned but uninformed passerby. Even so, there was one flaming comment on the Library blog, showing the level of emotion that removing library materials can generate. And, even for many of us who believe that this is a necessary course for many libraries to take, there are very mixed feelings at seeing these carefully-acquired, well cared-for (but unused) volumes on their way to the recycler.

Colorado College's process was managed intelligently and very openly. Even so, it had its moments of difficulty. While it may be tempting to tuck the Dumpster discreetly away, and to avoid the controversy that weeding may generate, it's important to make the process, the rationale, and the benefits completely transparent. Reducing print collections is not an easy decision, and it is especially hard to tolerate for those of us who have spent careers building them. But resources are not unlimited, and nearly half of print volumes have never been used in most libraries. We have to act, and we have to explain why.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Paradigm Lost

This past summer, Carla Tracy, Director of the Thomas Tredway Library at Augustana College, introduced me to an article of Scott Bennett's that I had not previously seen. I have been especially interested in his perspective as a library space planning expert, since he observed in a 2003 CLIR called Libraries Designed for Learning report that: 
"Library after library has sacrificed reader accommodation to the imperatives of shelving. The crowding out of readers by reading material is one of the most common and disturbing ironies in library space planning."
In a 2009 article in portal, entitled "Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change"he frames the influence on library space of library services and collections over several centuries. It posits three major models that have affected the design and use of library space:

  • The Reader-Centered Paradigm "affirmed the unity of book and reader." Reading tables and light, rather than shelving, were the dominant features.

  • The Book-Centered Paradigm showcases the wealth of the library's collections but also the unrelenting need for shelving: on a good day, this is the temple of books; on a bad day, the warehouse of books. Stacks are the dominant feature.

  • The Learning-Centered Paradigm: With the advent of electronic resources as the primary information format, the relationship between reader and collection has changed again. The dominant features are the information commons and group study spaces.

While there is clearly some overlap among these three models, the distinctions seem useful. Academic libraries are rethinking their role in the teaching and learning mission of their parent institutions, from a library presence in course management systems to information literacy initiatives. Facilitating an interaction among student, faculty, and relevant content may require adapted physical and virtual spaces--i.e., a conscious move from the book-centered to the learning-centered paradigm.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Age of Special Collections

 Last week R2 visited the Five Colleges libraries in western Massachusetts: Amherst, Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hamphsire, and the University of Massachusetts. The week's work took us, among other places, to Special Collections & Archives in each of the institutions.

At UMass, I witnessed first-hand the sheer effort now going into digitization of the papers of W.E.B. DuBois, the Library's namesake. Over 50,000 items are being scanned, described, and prepared for presentation on the web sometime in 2011. Special Collections staff have created a Fedora-based hosting and presentation environment that will bring these papers to life and to the world at large in a way they have never been before.

At Smith, I looked closely at page proofs from the American edition of Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, amended in her own hand in purple ink. I also looked at the way these and other Woolf artifacts had been used to create excellent exhibits to accompany a 2003 conference of scholars at Smith.

At Hampshire, graduating seniors produce final projects known as "Div III's" that can take not only written form, but might include dance or musical recitals, art exhibitions and other difficult-to-capture forms.

At all five libraries, the role of the library in preserving and curating archival material is being reconsidered, refined, and retooled for the digital age.

And, although the content is unique, this story is not. Library after library seeks the time, talent, and space to make its treasures discoverable. Archives and Special Collections, along with institutional repositories, are areas where libraries will distinguish themselves in future, as print collections and commercial electronic resources become ever more widely shared.

This emphasis on primary materials will inevitably draw staff, financial, and systems resources from other library collections and service areas. To enable this digital renaissance of unique content, libraries must continue to find ways to handle mainstream content more efficiently.

Monday, November 8, 2010

My New Hero's Fate

Stanley J. Slote literally wrote the book on weeding.  Most recently updated in 1997, Weeding Library Collections remains a fascinating read. In his view, regular weeding was an integral part of good collection management practice, even at a time when circulation rates were higher than now and when digital surrogates were rare.

He has become a hero to me because he makes the case for weeding so clearly: 
  1. To save or recover space
  2. To increase book usage
  3. To increase reader satisfaction
  4. To save staff time
  5. To make room for new technologies

Since my own copy of the 4th edition of his book was obtained from ABE as a library discard, I was curious as to how well Stanley remained represented in both the print and digital worlds. It is mystifying indeed why such a book would circulate so little as to meet the very fate is prescribes. Clearly vandals and visigoths walk among us. But given that the deed has been done, how difficult would it be for a library to replace this life-changing content? And how much would it cost?

Google Books: has full text of the 4th edition with limited previews, options to "find it in a library" and to purchase directly from the publisher and from several online booksellers.

Hathi Trust has full text for the first 3 editions, with limited preview, and options to "find it in a library."

WorldCat: shows that 2,150 libraries worldwide hold print copies; 8 of those are within 50 miles of me, plus it offers three places to buy a copy:

-- Amazon for $62.40
--Barnes & Noble for $62.40
--Better World Books for $3.98

Open Library has records for all 4 editions (though the cover shown for the 4th ed. is inexplicably that of a different book) and offers the option to borrow (via a WorldCat link) or buy from an online bookseller.

From which I can only conclude that my hero is immortal, and his message duly confirmed as timeless.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Space: The Final Frontier

In an article entitled "Life Cycle Costs of Library Collections", which appeared in the November 2001 issue of College & Research Libraries, authors Stephen R. Lawrence, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, and Keith H. Brigham estimated floor space requirements for monographs as follows:

Volumes |----------|Square feet
100,000|------------ |20,000
250,000|------------ |45,000
500,000|------------ |80,000
1,000,000|---------- |150,000
2,700,000|---------- |405,000

Most libraries are wrestling with growing space pressures. Gate counts are on the rise. Demand for collaborative study space, expanded information commons, additional user seating, and even amenities such as coffee shops continues to grow. Meanwhile, circulation of monographs in most libraries is flat or declining, with a sizable percentage of most collections not used at all.

It's interesting to consider the space occupied by low-use print collections in this context. What could be gained by removal from prime central campus space of titles that have not been used in ten or more years? Storage or withdrawal of 100,000 volumes would yield 20,000 square feet--an area of 200' x 100', or, configured as a square, 141.42' x 141.42.

Even a more modest effort--say, 10,000 volumes--would yield an area 50' x 40', once the space savings have been consolidated. In a recent library visit, I found this visual evidence of deselection work, hinting at the potential of such a project.

--Where the stacks were....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The $4.26 Problem

The June 2010 CLIR report "The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for 21st Century Scholarship" includes a fascinating chapter "On the Cost of Keeping A Book", by Paul Courant and Buzzy Nielsen.

The authors conclude that a library bears an annual cost of $4.26 for each volume held in open stacks, and $1.99 per volume if that book spends part of its life in a high-density storage facility.

The implications are impressive. Consider:

  • In a modest-sized academic library (say, 200,000 volumes), it's possible, even likely, that 50% of the collection--100,000 books-- have not circulated within the past ten years.

  • If those 100,000 untouched books had spent those ten years in open stacks, the library has borne a cost of $426,000 per year--or a total of $4.26 million dollars to house and maintain them. In open stacks, 100,000 books require 20,000 square feet of floor space.

  • Even if those 100,000 books had spent ten years in stacks and the remainder in high-density storage, the tally for the library would be $199,000 a year for ten years, or a total of $1.99 million.

  • All of this without direct benefit to a single user.

These are shocking numbers by any standard. As a community, academic libraries need to focus on this well-intentioned but misguided use of resources. While the money itself may not be fungible, the space certainly is, and there are many higher-value uses to which it could be put.

Or, to use Courant & Neilsen's own understated interpretation (emphasis added):

"Academic libraries will face many choices in the coming years as
they continue to struggle with preserving and providing access
to the cultural and scholarly records in an environment where the
number and types of materials that they are expected to collect grow rapidly.

As librarians grapple with these changes, it is important to
recognize that the costs associated with a print-based world, often assumed to be small, are actually large."