Thursday, October 10, 2013

Medium-Density Storage

Last week, at the invitation of Diane Graves, University Librarian at Trinity University in San Antonio, I spent two days in Texas to talk about shared print books and deselection. Day one consisted of discussions with some Humanities faculty at Trinity, followed by a day at the Texas Council of Academic Libraries meeting in Austin. People say that everything is bigger in Texas, and the jumbotron screen at the conference center certainly proved that point. Between the fine Mexican food and the buzz of passing by Scherz, Texas (Steve Earle's hometown) with a Doug Sahm song running through my head, it was a pretty fine trip.

TAMU/UTS Joint Library Facility
As luck would have it, I even learned a few things, from an interesting presentation on the Texas A&M / University of Texas System Joint Library Facility. The JLF opened in May 2013, and has recently begun to ingest books and journals--just under 70,000 to date, in a facility designed to hold one million volumes. Presenters Pixey Anne Mosley (Associate Dean for Administrative & Faculty Services at Texas A&M Libraries) and Wyoma van Duinkerken (Director of the JLF) described the evolution of the facility, highlighting a few concepts that were new, at least to me:
  • A medium-density facility: Shelving is 19 feet high, rather than the 30 feet that characterizes high-density facilities. This eliminates the need for additional sprinklers and helps control costs. I didn't think Texas did 'medium' anything, but there you have it.
  • Climate controls that mimic open stacks: Rather than 59 degrees and humidity-controlled, the JLF temperature is kept at 68% and there are no humidity controls. The idea is that these conditions are as good as most library stacks, and keep operating costs down. Both universities have other storage facilities that are climate-controlled.
  • Resource-in-Common (RIC): Via this concept, materials sent to the JLF become shared state property. Claiming RIC status for a title requires withdrawing one local shelf copy and updating the record with JLF location and OCLC symbol (JLF has its own symbol), and barcode information.
  • Clear and sensible policies: No duplicates. No government documents. Want good copy but not necessary to identify "best" copy. Items cannot be withdrawn or permanently relocated (e.g., back to campus). This collection is meant to be counted on.
The TAMU/UTS approach strikes a different balance than I've seen in other places. The emphasis is on reasonably good conditions for housing a single copy of books to be shared--at a reasonable cost. It fills a niche somewhere between what I have previously described as 'archive copies' and 'service copies.' It uses a single copy to do a bit of both, at a cost of $.40 per volume per year -- less than half of the $.86 per volume per year that Courant & Nielsen calculated for high-density storage. The JLF is not fully optimized for either preservation or delivery, but makes a reasonable effort at both. For print materials that may not be much in demand, this may be a very cost-effective solution at this scale.

Oh, and as for that jumbotron at the AT &T Conference Center, check it out.

You really don't want a typo on your slide at this scale!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Do BookBots Dream of Virtual Browse?

As I talk with librarians about the future of local print collections, one question surfaces with some regularity: what's the best or boldest strategy you've seen? While regional shared print projects such as the Michigan Shared Print Initiative (MI-SPI), the Maine Shared Collection Strategy provide one type of solution, individual library responses can also prove quite inspiring. One such project stands out in my mind: North Carolina State University's BookBot and Virtual Browse.

Prompted by a renovation of its main library, NC State fundamentally rethought its use of space and the role of its print collections. The Library's new vision conceived the renovated Hunt Library as "a major competitive advantage for the university." Further, the planners sought "the ability for our students, faculty, and partners to immerse themselves in interactive computing, multi-media creation, and large-scale visualization" -- tasks not immediately associated with print collections. NCSU also sought to double its seating capacity for users.

Still, the NCSU Libraries remain the custodian of a multi-million volume collection of print materials, and in their planning embraced that role in an eminently practical way.

A BookBot--a robotically-served high-density, climate-controlled repository--was incorporated into the design. With a capacity of 2 million volumes, the BookBot enabled NCSU to reduce the space allocated to print collections without reducing collection size. They retained a physically browsable collection of about 40,000 volumes, moving everything else to the BookBot.

NCSU is certainly not the first library to adopt this approach. Cal State Northridge holds the distinction of implementing the first robotically-served space integrated with its library, back in 1992. Other libraries, including UNLV, University of Utah, Colgate, and Valparaiso, have incorporated Automated Storage & Retrieval Systems (ASRS) with good results. The key is rapid delivery of items in the BookBot; NCSU's standard is 5 minutes from the user submitting a request.

Virtual Browse - Serendipity Restored!

But NCSU has raised the game to a new level by incorporating Virtual Browse capability. This addresses one of the major objections to high-density storage, regardless of whether it's remote or attached to the library: the inability to scan scan the surrounding material on the shelves. Virtual Browse provides an excellent alternative: a graphical interface that uses cover scans, tables of contents, and bibliographic records to their fullest potential.

Take a look at this short video: Virtual Browse is demonstrated around the 1:40 mark. NCSU's combination of high-density storage, rapid retrieval, and virtual browse set a new standard for interacting with increasingly low-use print collections.

Yes, it's expensive and probably not for every library. But as regional shared print service centers become more common, development costs can be amortized over a group of libraries and users provided with a window into offsite collections as well as onsite collections. It's an investment that applies the full power of current discovery tools while allowing print collections to be managed more efficiently and in a smaller footprint.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Farewell to Alexandria Revisited

"What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun." --Ecclesiastes 1:9 (New International Version)

Last June, I made a presentation on "Rethinking Library Resources" to the Academic Libraries of Indiana. Among other fine moments that day, I met David Lewis, Dean of the IUPUI University Library and an author whose "From the Stacks to the Web: The Transformation of Academic Library Collecting" I had been citing in my presentations. Over lunch, he recommended that I chase down a book from the 1970s called Farewell to Alexandria. [WorldCat record] [Hathi Trust record] Once again I found myself purchasing a copy of a book that had been withdrawn from a library, this time from the Moody Bible Institute, which doubtless inspired the quote above. [Amazon record]. In a sign that the used book market struggles (much as libraries do, though in different terms) to establish the value of a work, this title remains available at prices ranging from $1.98 to $176.61.

If you are of a certain age, cast your mind back to 1975, a full 38 years ago. (If you are not of a certain age, well, good for you. Trust your elders on this.) The library profession was near the end of an unprecedented building boom. Between 1967-1974, "about 570 new or expanded library buildings were built on the campuses of four-year and graduate institutions throughout this nation." All of this building generated, among other things, shelving for 163 million volumes. But print book acquisition was also at its apex during this period; in 1973-74, total shelving capacity increased by 25 million volumes, but 41 million volumes were acquired. Meanwhile, the Kent study was in its sixth and final year at the University of Pittsburgh, offering a glimpse into how few of those books might actually be used. OCLC had been in operation for only seven years; the MARC record was a youngster as well.The idea of resource-sharing on a mass scale may have existed, but in practice, a patron's best resource was the local print collection. Electronic resources were the dream of a few far-sighted individuals.

Library construction, 1975
It was in this context--a time when print books and library buildings were central to serving users -- that an unlikely event took place. On April 17-18, 1975, the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a group of liberal arts colleges, convened a conference entitled "Touching Bottom in the Bottomless Pit" at the Conrad Hilton Hotel in Chicago. Organized by Daniel Gore, Library Director at Macalester College, the meeting drew 230 librarians to engage in "a national debate on space, growth, and performance problems in libraries." Speakers from Purdue, Berkeley, Earlham, Florida Atlantic, ISI, Universities of Georgia and Colorado, the Council on Library Resources and others tackled a difficult question: "Can library growth be curbed or halted without detriment to the central mission of libraries, namely the provision of books to readers?" A panel consisting of a state budget analyst, a Professor of English, the President of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, and the Executive Director of the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science discussed "Opportunities and Obstacles Along the Road to the No-Growth, High-Performance Library."

Perhaps it was a bolder time. It's difficult to imagine confronting these questions quite so directly today--even when resource sharing, digital content, and networked systems have made the discussion and concerted action much safer. Over the coming weeks, as I work my way through Farewell to Alexandria, I'll be looking for information and inspiration to influence our contemporary conversation on these issues. I expect to find it, and to report on it. Maybe it's time to do again that which has already been done.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


In last week's post about the PAN Forum at ALA Midwinter, I described what I understood to be the origins of the group. It turns out that there is more to the story. Prompted by a message from Jim Michalko in the OCLC Research, I looked a little further back. Good people have been plowing the fields of shared print for even longer than I had realized. So let's give credit where credit is due. A good place to start: the North American Storage Trust (NAST).

Take a look at this useful brief history of the NAST project. It is clear that ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries), in an initiative led by Paul Gherman (Vanderbilt), and Paul Willis (University of Kentucky) began grappling with these issues back in 1999. Significant data comparisons were done in 2003 and 2004, accompanied by early discussions of "shared virtual storage" and related strategies. ASERL, OCLC Research, and RLG all played major roles in this important work. Policy frameworks and data requirements for large-scale shared print were developed and reported in 2007. This groundwork continues to benefit all of us now working in this space.

Interestingly, meetings tied to ALA conferences were also occurring around this work, and in many ways these are the real antecedents to PAN. Among the invitees in a December 2006 email are some of the same people who continue to make major contributions to shared print efforts today:
And others, including people from JSTOR, OCLC, Harvard, the Library of Congress, and the University of California system. These few, along with some of their colleagues, recognized early on the need to think collaboratively about our print collections. As a community, we owe them a vote of thanks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Pipes of PAN

The estimable Mr. Kieft
The Print Archive Network (PAN) Forum began in 2007 as an informal meeting of a few people interested in the fate of print collections in a digital age. Conceived by Bob Kieft, College Librarian at Occidental College and a long-time writer and speaker on shared print monographs, PAN meetings were initially supported by LYRASIS and subsequently by the Center for Research Libraries (CRL). Bob's idea has clearly struck a chord among academic libraries. The PAN meetings, customarily held on the Friday morning before each ALA and still chaired by the estimable Mr. Kieft, have grown steadily in attendance and agenda.

In Seattle two weeks ago, 70-80 people attended a 3-hour session that called to mind some new type of Big Heads meeting. There were even round-robin reports distributed in advance by ASERL, University of California's Shared Print program, University of Florida/FLARE, Maine Shared Collection Strategy, Connect New York, and others. A compilation of these reports and a selection of presentations are available at the PAN website, hosted by CRL. They are well worth some time for anyone interested in shared print activities. A few highlights follow.

This meeting's theme was 'Data & Tools for Print Archiving' and included presentations from:
  • COPPUL (Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries), a group of 20 Canadian libraries working on shared print under a 'light governance agreement.' The group initially focused on 1,700 low-risk journal titles to build trust and develop techniques.
  • GWLA (Greater Western Library Alliance), with 33 members (mostly ARLs) is looking to develop a batch approach to identifying, sharing, and carefully reducing some of its 90 million combined volumes.
  • California State University (represented by Rick Lugg of SCS, CSU's vendor partner for collection analysis) reported on its 'Libraries of the Future' Task Force, a Chancellor's Office initiative looking at (among other things) system-wide management of print collections.  The first phase of data analysis, which involved 6 libraries and 3.7 million monograph records, was completed in October and is being reviewed.
  • OCLC's Kathryn Harnish brought the group up to date on plans for a new version of WorldCat Collection Analysis, with a focus on 'machine access to pre-processed comparison data.'
  • SCELC (Statewide California Electronic Library Consortium) has begun a shared print preservation project involving 57 libraries and 2.2 million book records.SCELC plans to host and manage the data on behalf of its members.
  • ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries), working with the University of Florida, has developed two tools for managing tangible Government Document collections: a Disposition Database and a Gap Analysis tool. Both are open-source and available to other libraries.
  • Lizanne Payne, on behalf of OCLC, CDL, and WEST, described progress on metadata guidelines for print archiving, and in particular the use of the MARC 583 Action Note. All libraries in print archiving programs are encouraged (at minimum) to use this field to communicate retention commitments.
  • CRL (Center for Research Libraries) highlighted the need to review archived journal issues for completeness and condition, and demonstrated the high level of detail needed to resolve inconsistencies in holdings records and to perform issue-level validation. The CRLJSTOR Print Archive Tool was also demonstrated. Print archiving tools need to be developed for mobile platforms.
  • CIC (Committee on Insitutional Cooperation) reported on its journals and Government Documents initiatives. They also plan to begin work on monographs, beginning with Ohio State, using the OCLC 'mega-regions' analysis as a framework.
We really are an acronym-happy lot, aren't we? Regardless, when next the pipes are calling, follow where they go ;-).