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Not only are library collections outgrowing available shelves, but the shelves themselves are disappearing in favor of shared study spaces, reading areas, and classrooms.

The result? A bunch of books with nowhere to go!

Well, that’s not exactly true. It’s up to libraries to decide where legacy collections will go, and many libraries are banding together in regional or statewide groups to share the decisions about—and space for—storage.

The Michigan Shared Print Initiative, representing seven public universities, worked together to identify and eliminate duplicate holdings among the participating libraries. They used three filters:

-- Titles that were published or acquired before 2005
-- Titles that appeared in at least three collections
-- Titles that had circulated three or fewer times since 1999

They then uploaded bibliographic and circulation data into a software application that produced data and analysis in the form of collection summaries, allowing the libraries to make better-informed decisions about what to keep.

The Western Regional Storage Trust consolidates and maintains print journal archives for more than 100 individual libraries, including the University of California library system, which set up the repository in 2009.

Northeastern U.S. institutions of all sizes, ranging from Harvard University to Wellesley College, joined in a discussion that resulted in the formation of the Northeast Regional Library Print Management Project. About 90 institutions have joined so far. A co-director of the project notes that individual libraries see different ways of resolving the storage issue:

-- Some want to split up responsibility for legacy collections (“you keep some and I’ll keep some”)
-- Some want to expand their holdings through greater access to other libraries’ collections
-- Some want to find and share off-site storage

The Five College Consortium (made up of Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, along with the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) transformed a retired military bunker into a high-density book-storage facility. Yet the bunker, which can hold about 570,000 volumes, is already almost 95% full.

And although 65% of Smith College’s acquisitions budget is spent on electronic content, Smith’s director of libraries points out that certain types of materials, such as art books, are generally preferred in print format. So, even with the explosion of digital materials, the college will still have to find a place for its new print acquisitions while also dealing with the issue of storage for older or less-used collections.

Ultimately, libraries are faced with the responsibility of making decisions about “deselection,” to create space, while ensuring that books that make up part of the intellectual record (even those that haven’t circulated in a long time) are held somewhere.

03 Dec 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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