Storage Is Where You Find It

By Walsh, Tom | American Libraries, April 1997 | Go to article overview

Storage Is Where You Find It


Walsh, Tom, American Libraries


CYBERSPACE MAY OFFER VIRTUAL ACRES OF ROOM, BUT RESEARCH LIBRARIES LIKE THOSE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI STILL CRAM TO HOUSE THE MATERIAL WORLD

At the very center of the University of Missouri/Columbia, Ellis Library is bursting its bindings. The main library for this 25,000-student campus, Ellis is once again dealing with growing pains. Built in 1914, the library is at 100% capacity, with over 1.4 million volumes on its shelves and more than 20,000 others coming in each year.

Optimally, says Library Director Martha Alexander, only about 85% of shelf space would be occupied at any given time, allowing the flexibility needed to meet the always shifting demands of a large research university. And shelving isn't the only space concern for Alexander, who also oversees the seven other libraries on campus. There is an unmet demand for study areas, instruction rooms, and places to house new technology.

If it's any consolation to Alexander, the University of Missouri is not alone among research libraries in needing more room. "Space is a concern that many libraries are worried about," says Althea Jenkins, executive director of ALA's Association of College and Research Libraries. While "not at a crisis stage," she says, space concerns are "very important and high on many lists. And they're being handled in a number of creative ways."

Meeting Ellis Library's space needs is a core issue in planning efforts for University of Missouri officials as they invest their limited resources in the state's flagship campus. As with most planning endeavors in these waning years of the century, the urgency of solving the library problems often takes on an elevated importance by being raised in light of the approaching new millennium, new technology, and newly born Information Age. Alexander hopes the right decisions now will make Ellis Library and librarians across campus even more integral to the university's success in the next century than they have traditionally been.

You just don't pitch it

Having enough room to store books and other primary materials probably has been the most visible and talked about space need at Ellis and other libraries. A research university faces a peculiar problem because it can't, as other libraries can, occasionally "clean house" of unused volumes. "As a research library," Alexander says, "we are obligated to preserve those materials that we acquire because they have historic significance. They are used as research material in a way that materials at four-year colleges are not."

Working within that constraint presents Alexander with three tiers of storage needs. First come the basic, on-site library stacks that users are able to browse, with items arranged in call number order in open shelving. At Ellis, this is the space that is filled to the brim.

Second come materials that are not often consulted, but that do not lend themselves well to a high-density storage facility. For example, they may be collections of older periodicals without indexes, which cannot be browsed electronically. Though these materials may go years without being looked at, they are the types of books and periodicals that some faculty are concerned will be lost to researchers if they are moved to remote storage sites.

The third tier of storage is for rarely used volumes that are indexed and can thus be put in high-density storage buildings away from campus.

Until 1992, Alexander and others expected salvation for their space crunch to come as it had in the past, through expansion of the main library. An $18-million addition to Ellis Library had long topped the University of Missouri's priority list for new construction, but when George Russell became president of the four-campus system in November 1991, he faced lean financial times. Four days after Russell took over, Missourians at the polls soundly defeated an initiative that would have provided hundreds of millions of dollars to the state's universities, including funds for Ellis Library. …

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