Thursday, January 04, 2007

Storage Facilities

The online version of the Los Angeles Times has published an article on storage facilities in college libraries. The article focuses specifically on libraries at California colleges and universities, some of which have moved little-used materials into offsite, temperature-controlled storage facilities. Colleen A. Carlton, the director of the Southern Regional Library Facility located on the UCLA campus, is quoted as saying that "only about 2% of all the holdings is requested in a year, often couriered to other campuses." Other California libraries have chosen to install more compact shelving as a way of dealing with space issues. This was the approach chosen by Michael Gorman, former president of the American Library Association, who will soon retire from his position as dean of library services at Cal State Fresno. Gorman has advocated for compact shelving over remote storage facilities because "the off-limits automated systems...seem to discourage the exploration that can serendipitously lead a reader to the perfect book."

My library has been dealing with space problems for years. We currently have a mix of solutions in place--compact shelving in the library proper; an on-campus storage facility where compact shelving is installed and from which the staff retrieves materials for our community (we have chosen to put items there that are either easily retrievable by citation, e.g., treaties and administrative decisions, or that are reliably duplicated in a digital format, e.g., academic law reviews); remote commercial storage for rarely used items, such as Canadian provincial case reporters, which we have begun to process to send to LLMC; and even more remote commercial storage for our rare book collection. A former colleague used to say that in his library the directional question rose to the level of metaphysics; I fear we have created a similarly confusing situation, but stack space is finite, and each library must decide what works best for its community.

1 comment:

Betsy McKenzie said...

Stack space is, sadly, finite, but librarians can dream! Terry Pratchett, the British satirist, posits a huge library of magic books at his Unseen University on the Discworld. The library is so large that it creates its own gravitational field and distorts space-time to form the L-space, where both space and time can expand infinitely. From the handy website, here is a quote from The Discworld Companion:

Even big collections of ordinary books distort space and time, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, one of those that has more staircases than storeys and those rows of shelves that end in little doors that are surely too small for a full sized human to enter.

The relevant equation is Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read. Mass distorts space into polyfractal L-space, in which Everywhere is also Everywhere Else.

All libraries are connected in L-space by the bookwormholes created by the strong space-time distortions found in any large collection of books. Only a very few librarians learn the secret, and there are inflexible rules about making use of the fact - because it amounts to time travel.