Monday, May 14, 2012

A Spa for Books

To paraphrase Jon Landau from 1973, I have seen library collections' future, and its name is ReCAP. Last week, my partner Ruth Fischer and I had occasion to visit the Research Collections and Preservation Consortium, a high-density offsite storage facility owned jointly by Princeton, Columbia, and New York Public Library. It's always a pleasure to see a well-run operation, and Executive Director Eileen Henthorne and her crew have really honed this one since it opened in 2002. 

10 million books in there!
Facts and figures
  • Current capacity: 10 million volumes (96% full)
  • 2 new modules under construction will hold another 8-10 million volumes
  • On an average day, ReCAP takes in 3,000 items/day from its libraries; at peak load-in, this reached 8,000/day.
  • 600-700 items per day are retrieved to fill patron requests; 24-48 hour fulfillment
  • Annual retrieval rate is under 2%, indicating that the right items have moved offsite
  • ReCAP has never lost an item!
  • Climate is controlled at levels supporting 300-year preservation: 50-59 degrees; 35% relative humidity. In the colorful phrase of Jim Neal, Vice Provost at Columbia, ReCAP is "a spa for books." The facility is powered by solar panels on its roof.
  • The facility is as clean, organized, and efficient as the library of our dreams
  • While it is not directly browsable, it is immensely reliable and useful. This approach, however poorly it fits our romantic view of libraries, is exactly what we need to manage low-use tangible collections.
A Brief Tour in Pictures

ReCAP processing room

Incoming volumes are sorted by size
and placed in one of 16 sizes of acid-free cardboard trays

Barcodes on book, tray, and shelf manage the inventory--there is no bib data in the ReCAP system
After sizing, volumes are accessioned by scanning barcodes on piece and tray--system assigns a row/shelf

The entire accessioning process is repeated by a different worker to assure accuracy
Trays are then placed in the storage modules 
Every volume has a home address of several barcodes
Bowling alley wax is used on shelves to assure smooth movement of trays
Executive Director Eileen Henthorne & her staff know where *everything* is
Tools of the trade: barcode readers re-charging

Cart with forklift slots in base 
Needed because shelves are 30' high

Narrow-aisle picker vehicle with carts, trays, and visitor aboard

Books enroute from ReCAP to users: 24 hours from request to delivery
New modules under construction


  1. Hey, thanks for the Springsteen reference. And great to see this: I was a little disheartened when I saw it was 96% full, and so the new modules will be welcome.

  2. Thought the reference might be too obscure, but glad you caught it. As for fullness, yes, help is on the way -- and of course a national/international network of these facilities is what we really need. Plenty of them at work besides ReCAP -- in California, Ohio, Washington DC. Lizanne Payne's study from 2007 lays them all out nicely.

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