Libraries facing space crunch

Three East Coast libraries don't have room for all of their books

Throwing out books not an option

A library warehouse will be created near Princeton, N.J.

May 13, 1999|By Karen W. Arenson | Karen W. Arenson,New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- Columbia University is double-stacking library books, stashing them in every nook and cranny. Princeton is stowing books out of sequence that could no longer be crammed in where they belonged. And the New York Public Library is projecting that it will run out of space for its research collections by 2003.

Throwing out books is not an option. Nor is cutting off acquisitions or finding more contiguous space.

So the three institutions -- owners of three of the largest book collections in the New York metropolitan area -- are planning to create a climate-controlled, no-frills library warehouse near Princeton, N.J., where they can send some of their least-used books, periodicals and other items.

Researchers will be able to receive articles and book excerpts electronically from the storage library the same day; other material will be delivered within 24 hours.

Coping with book tide

The move is a desperate attempt to cope with the explosion in books, journals and other hard-copy material -- a crisis facing research libraries everywhere. The proliferation of digital media, librarians ssay, has done little to ease that crisis.

All three libraries have digital programs, said William Walker, senior vice president and the Andrew W. Mellon director of the Research Libraries at the New York Public Library, which add about 200,000 books and other materials to their 40-million-item collections annually. But we also think the artifact has great importance to the scholar, and the digital representation does not replace it.

Although the three institutions plan to work together to convert more of their materials to electronic form, they are racing ahead on the storage library, which is expected to be built in Plainsboro, N.J.

They hope to open in less than two years. The first phase, which will cost more than $15 million, will include three storage rooms, each with a capacity of about 2 million volumes.

Books and other materials will be filed by size and shape rather than by subject or author, the traditional method.

Each will have its own bar code and they will be stored in boxes on long trays stacked 30 feet high.

Researchers will be able to browse through an electronic catalog from their offices and send requests electronically to the warehouse, where workers will retrieve the materials, riding a cherry picker to reach those stored high up.

The consortium will maximize space by removing duplicates where possible. Each institution will share the costs based on its use of the warehouse, and the three founding institutions plan to invite other schools to join them to reduce costs.

One disadvantage

One clear disadvantage is that scholars will not be able to wander through the stacks, thumbing through old volumes, looking for serendipitous discoveries.

There is kind of a learning curve that people go through in getting used to this, said Curtis Kendrick, director of access services for the Columbia libraries. The first choice is to build a brand-new library in the middle of campus with all sorts of fancy technology. But the cost is prohibitive. And once they understand that won't happen, depositories are seen as a good solution.

Several other research libraries have paved the way. Harvard University was one of the first, and its 13-year-old depository, located about 30 miles from Cambridge, Mass., is the model for the New York area project.

Other universities, including Cornell, Ohio University and the University of Pennsylvania, have either built or are building similar book depositories.

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