Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Letting Go: Closing a Branch Library of the Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh

Academic journal article Library Resources & Technical Services

Letting Go: Closing a Branch Library of the Health Sciences Library System, University of Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Closing a branch library is a complex and often a painful activity, but one that libraries frequently face in difficult economic times. This case study examines a project that closed a branch library in an academic health sciences library system. The authors describe the sequence of steps followed, challenges encountered, and solutions implemented to complete the project. The authors document lessons learned that can benefit other libraries faced with a similar situation.


In the fall of 2008, the administration of the Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) informed the Health Sciences Library System (HSLS) at the University of Pittsburgh (Pitt) that it would have to make extensive budget cuts in the collection of its library, one of four libraries the HSLS manages. In early December, after a few months of planning for space and budget reductions, the WPIC administration notified the HSLS director that WPIC Library instead would close permanently at the end of the semester. The HSLS received no reasons for the decision. Some staff positions were terminated and others retained for a few months to aid in the disposition of the collection, which was planned for completion by the end of the spring. Begun in 1942, the WPIC Library had built a comprehensive collection in psychiatry and the behavioral sciences. The HSLS staff were devastated with the decision yet had no choice but to plan to dismantle this outstanding collection.

This paper is a case study on closing a departmental or branch library that is part of a larger academic library system. The library's collection was specialized, and the largest portion was unique within the system. This paper describes the planning phase, processes developed, activities, and results of the work. The authors, who served as project managers, document lessons learned that could benefit other libraries faced with a similar situation.

Literature Review

Because the HSLS had so little time to plan for closure of the WPIC Library, project managers did not take the time to review the library science literature, but they would have benefitted from doing so. Many relevant articles on the subjects of moving libraries to different spaces, merging branch libraries into the main library, and closing libraries have been published. Two articles relate to merging libraries. Lessin's article, a more theoretical, historical discussion, is aimed at helping library managers guide decision-making; it is not a step-by-step discussion of the process. (1) His is a positive response to the potentially negative action of merging libraries. He reminds his readers that patrons may not be happy with such decisions, but the electronic environment provides access to literature regardless of the physical location of materials, especially in a library that provides information in science, technology, and medicine.

The librarians at the Ebling Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison knew two years beforehand that they would be merging three health science library collections into one. (2) They had the time to carefully plan for the move with input from staff throughout the libraries. They could take the time to reclassify one collection before the move, spend a year to perform a title-by-title assessment of the journal collections, and carefully mark shelves in the new building so that the moving company could know where to place the bound journals. The authors note the importance of communication to library staff and patrons as the move was taking place--a recurring theme in articles addressing moving, merging, or closing libraries.

At the Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia, the library was moved at the recommendation of the librarian. (3) They had time to plan the new space to suit their needs, but did face some challenges with the actual move. Their experience highlights the fact that although each library's issues and challenges are unique, problems will necessarily arise when moving, merging, or closing a library. …

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