Close this search box.
Close this search box.

The libraries of Tri-Colleges applied for the Mellon planning grant because of their concern about upcoming space shortages. Bryn Mawr has no plans to expand its library facilities. Librarians at Haverford are operating under the assumption that no new space will be available in the foreseeable future. At Swarthmore, any addition must await at least until the next capital campaign, which could be 10 to 15 years away. Therefore, a central objective of this project was to explore the feasibility of developing a new model of collection growth. Under consideration were the impacts of consortial collection development and of the acquisition of e-resources on the rate of growth of each college’s printed collections. This section explores library as space, defines space requirements in library buildings, and provides an overview of the state of holdings and the current rate of growth in each library. It summarizes the findings on deduplication and weeding of the print collections and looks at the space savings that libraries are already realizing as they move to electronic journals and reference sources as a predictor of what we might expect as the minimum level of future space savings.

Library as Space

In February 2002, attendees at an Association of Research Libraries/OCLC Strategic Issues Forum explored the concept of the library as a space for academic life that allows room for social and intellectual activities. Two themes emerged from the forum: (1) the shift in focus from space and place to people and their activities in the buildings; and (2) an expanded view of the library’s role in integrating learning-oriented functions. Many libraries are home to language labs, writing centers, and tutoring centers. Integrating these learning functions makes sense from a theoretical as well as a practical perspective. Furthermore, as faculty members revise courses to include electronic resources, students want enhanced space with group video-viewing rooms, discussion areas, and ready access to computers. Input from the focus groups and from a Swarthmore College survey point to the need for more space for computers, leisure seating, tables, and meetings.

Figuring out how long the existing buildings could accommodate linear growth of their collections is relatively simple. However, to accommodate the various formats in which knowledge is “published” and the way people learn from those materials, libraries have to provide new types of spaces. This is nothing new; libraries have always made room for new formats and the equipment to facilitate their use. Today, however, libraries are expected not only to accommodate passive use of these materials but also to enable faculty and students to integrate these resources in creating new knowledge. Faculty and students expect to be able to read, view, and listen to media and also scan, capture, and edit materials that they may wish to use in the classroom or in assignments. In response, libraries are incorporating spaces such as digital media labs as a natural progression from supporting viewing to supporting the production of multimedia.

Adding this type of functionality is not simply a matter of trading a traditional carrel for one equipped with multimedia hardware. The amount of space required for multimedia functions increases with the nature of use: a 3 percent increase for viewing, an 8 percent increase for creation, and a 10 percent increase for production facilities. For example, a standard carrel for reading is 36 inches wide while a multifunction workstation needs to be 51 inches wide. Additional space may be required for functions such as production studios or editing rooms and for staff support of these functions.

Space Requirements

Standards for library shelving have established “working capacity” at 86 percent of the LF occupied. Beyond this level, the space becomes too crowded to function efficiently, causing problems in reshelving books and locating material.

According to Habich,6 the average width of materials across all disciplines in an academic research library is 0.99 inches for a book and 1.77 inches for a bound periodical, which equates to 12 books or 7 bound journals per LF. Compact shelving vendors use an average of 8 volumes per LF. The average for the Tri-Colleges is 9 volumes per linear foot of books and bound journals. As wider bound journals are removed, creating a higher balance of books, the Tri-Colleges may wish to use 10 volumes per LF in their calculations.

Linear footage measurements include space currently housing government documents. These collections are not growing as a result of the cancellation of U.S. Government Depository status for Haverford and increasing publication of government documents on the Web.

The Current State of the Collections: Holdings and Growth Rates at the Three Colleges

On the basis of the library standard definition of 86 percent working capacity for shelving and their current annual growth rates of print materials, all three colleges will reach working capacity in the next 15 years (Table 12).

Table 12. Estimated Working Capacity of the Tri-Colleges Libraries
Bryn Mawr Haverford Swarthmore
Shelving available 133,660 LF 64,632 LF 95,099 LF
Working capacity (86% of capacity) 114,948 LF 55,584 LF 81,785 LF
Shelving in use 88,067 LF 52,172 LF 81,451 LF
Current % of working capacity
Annual growth 1,738 LF 716 LF 1,052LF
Years to reach working capacity 15 years 5 years

*Swarthmore has completed a Master Plan for using compact shelving in its main library that should extend shelving capacity by nine years. Funding has not yet been approved for this plan.

In 2001 Swarthmore added compact shelving in its science library that extended its shelving capacity by 6 to 10 years. Reductions in print journal volumes as a result of conversion to online access have already occurred and are expected to continue to result in savings shelf space in the science library.

Architectural plans have been drawn for Bryn Mawr’s main Canaday Library, which needs to be renovated to accommodate an expanded range of services. Implementation of these plans will reduce shelving and dramatically shorten the time before Bryn Mawr reaches capacity; in fact, it may virtually eliminate the 15 years of expansion space estimated to be available today. Building a new wing onto Canaday Library for additional collections and new programs is not an option because of local building regulations.

Haverford just completed the construction of a new science library with less space than the two branch libraries it replaced. Haverford has five years of growth space before reaching working capacity.

The Impact of Consortial Collection Development

At the start of this study, the Planning Group believed that a Tri-College collection-development plan could help the colleges realize space savings in two ways. First, it could slow the growth rate of print collections by minimizing the amount of additional overlap in materials bought and housed by the libraries. For example, of the nearly 5,500 books that Swarthmore purchased through the Academic Book Center (ABC) approval plan last year, 80 percent were also purchased by the Bi-College Haverford/Bryn Mawr plan. Reducing the overlap rate to 50 percent would save approximately 165 LF per year. However, any decrease in the overlap of new materials would likely be offset by the reallocation of dollars to the purchase of other new materials and would result in space savings only if those new materials were electronic.

The second and optimum way to realize space savings is to weed the existing collections. The data indicate that the older the material, the less it is used. In fact, usage figures (as measured by circulation) drop significantly for materials published before 1950. As noted previously, over 80 percent of materials published before 1950 have not circulated in 11 years.

The three colleges have traditionally made their weeding decisions independently. Haverford has an ongoing program of weeding that it considers good for the health of a collection. Over time, ideas about the collections and the curriculum have changed, and some items may no longer be needed to support course work or research. Swarthmore has focused on weeding its collection in the sciences. It also regularly reviews duplicate copies of older materials in other disciplines. Many of the multiple copies were purchased as course reserves but have not been used as such for more than 10 years.

The idea of weeding may require a shift in thinking that runs counter to the belief that a big library is a good library, and that materials must be locally held to be of value. The administration, faculty, and students will need to be comfortable with the vision of one collection and with the idea that materials do not need to be a permanent part of the home collection to be readily accessible.

In preparation for moving parts of their collection in the summer of 2003, Swarthmore identified books in religion and philosophy that met strict criteria. The titles were

  • held on at least two of the campuses
  • published before 1980
  • not circulated in the last 12 years or circulated less than five times since 1970
  • never placed on reserve
  • not a gift
  • generally secondary sources
  • not written by Swarthmore alumni or faculty

Preliminary faculty response to suggested withdrawal lists in philosophy indicated that about 35 percent of the items meeting those criteria may actually be deselected. In religion, the percentage was less than 10.

The data showed that among the three libraries there are 175,000 volumes that overlap and that have not circulated since 1991. If the libraries could weed just half of these volumes (i.e., around 87,500 items), they would gain approximately 8,750 LF feet of space. However, if the faculty members determine that 80 percent of the overlapping items should be retained, the space gains will be small in comparison with the amount of work required to achieve them. The lists of potential volumes were reviewed by the humanities subject specialist and all the faculty members in the departments. At the current rate of growth of the Tri-College collections, if the libraries were to realize the maximum space gains for weeding one copy of all overlapped items, they would gain two to three years’ worth of growth space. Swarthmore’s weeding project suggests that the target areas for weeding may need to be expanded. For example, while 175,000 volumes have not circulated at all during the study period, a much larger number have circulated only once or twice. In these cases, a single copy could support that level of use. Overall, the libraries hold more than 500,000 overlapping volumes. The Swarthmore project also suggests that the libraries need to make clearer to the faculty the relative costs of retaining low-use materials on campus versus having them available within the Tri-Colleges.

While weeding alone may not solve the space problems, it can provide sufficient incremental gains in shelving capacity until additional space savings may be realized through increasing use of electronic books and journals.

Finally, the libraries need to look more closely at faculty attitudes toward off-site storage. At one point, the Planning Group considered that having a volume located at another Tri-College library was a type of off-site storage. However, discussions with faculty in philosophy made it clear that the issue is one of ownership. Unfortunately, neither the focus groups nor the weeding project addressed the level of tolerance or the relative costs and effects of remote storage compared with those of deaccessioning. A better understanding of faculty attitudes toward these options is essential.

Impact of E-resources

In considering whether the libraries could withdraw or relocate print volumes once titles are available in electronic form, the Planning Group considered the following factors:

  • The content needs to be available from a trusted source, that is, a publisher or a publisher service provider.
  • Future electronic access must not be jeopardized by rampant price increases.
  • The provider must offer an archival guarantee.
  • The product must be indexed.
  • Content must be complete.
  • Local faculty requirements for print versions must be borne in mind.

Libraries have already begun to realize some space savings by shifting from print to digital format. As the acceptability of online services grows, the libraries will gain substantial savings here. In a number of cases the libraries have canceled print journals when online versions became available. For example, Swarthmore’s science library canceled 48 print titles for 2002, which reduced the requirement for shelving new volumes by 340 LF in the following year. After consultation with faculty, the three science librarians selected those journal titles whose pre-1960 volumes needed to be held on only one of the three campuses. This resulted in savings of approximately 150 LF in each building.

Access to reliable electronic journal back runs offers opportunities for the Tri-Colleges to reduce duplicates. A Tri-College report calculated that the number of print volumes of JSTOR titles that could be deduplicated was approximately 10,000. Increasing this number by 50 percent-to 15,000 volumes-would free an estimated 1,666 LF of space. A similar strategy of reducing print back files to a single copy could be employed as publishers expand their journal archives. In the Tri-College reference collections, libraries have stopped subscriptions to print indexes and abstracts that are received as databases and, in many cases, have weeded back runs of those materials. More savings can probably be realized in this area; this topic needs to be studied.

Currently the e-book shows its greatest potential in the areas of reference and reserve readings. It has not developed its full potential as a substitute for a print stack title that can be read in the traditional manner.

In the past four years there have been notable reductions in the space required to house Swarthmore’s Federal Depository collection as the result of a transition to electronic format (Table 13). In 2002 there were additional reductions because of the realigned depository arrangements among the three colleges intended to reduce overlap in their holdings of government documents. It is expected that the Government Printing Office transition to electronic printing will continue, but at a decreased rate.

Table 13. Growth of Documents Collections
Location 1998/99 1999/00 2000/01 2001/02
SuDocs collection
Docs in LC collection
Docs periodical titles
Total print receipts
LF added
Fiche added
Electronic records added

Options for Maximizing Linear Feet of Shelving

In the immediate future, the Tri-College libraries will most likely use a combination of on-site compact shelving and off-site storage.

On-site Compact Shelving

The libraries have been taking advantage of compact shelving to expand their capacity to house materials. Haverford has compact shelving in its new science library. Swarthmore gained 10 years of growth space in its science library by using compact shelving, and it plans to install additional compact shelving in summer of 2003 for periodicals and government documents. Only Bryn Mawr has space with the required floor strength to add more compact shelving.

Compact shelving comes in a range of options, including manual, mechanical-assist, and powered mobile shelving, which reduces aisles to one for every six ranges of bookshelves. While it allows on-site browsing, compact shelving limits the number of users at one time. If lesser-used materials are stored on the shelving, this is not an issue.

High-Density On-site Storage

Commonly known as an automated storage retrieval system (ASRS), this is an on-campus option that automates the retrieval of books stored by size. It was first installed at California State University (CSU) at Northridge in 1991. It enabled the library to create the space to store 950,000 volumes in 8,000 assignable square feet; this is one-tenth the amount required for open stacks.

Adapting inventory control systems and robotic technology used in commercial warehouses allowed CSU to store books by size in bins that would be automatically retrieved so that staff could pull the desired item. Benefits of restricted access include prolonging the life of material by minimizing handling, providing environmental control, improving inventory control, and improving the reliability of access.

Subsequently, Eastern Michigan State University and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) installed an ASRS. In addition to allowing room for growth, the system at UNLV houses old periodicals, little-used books, government documents, special collections, and older reference materials.

High-Density Off-site Storage

More than 20 of the largest research libraries in the United States have created off-site storage centers in the last decade. These libraries include Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, the University of California system, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech, and the University of Texas at Austin.

Known as a high-density book shelving system (HDBSS) and pioneered by Harvard in 1984, the approach enables libraries to store materials by size in containers on shelves that are 30 to 40 feet high. Operating an HDBSS requires an inventory system, and the books must be bar coded and retrieved by an order picker. To extend the life of the materials, the space is controlled for temperature, humidity, light, pollution, vibration, pests, and insects, and is protected from fire and water damage.

Storage facilities that store low-use materials report annual retrieval rates of 2 to 4 percent.7 Given the need for mediated retrieval and the sensitivity of researchers to the lack of direct access, performance standards are a core part of service arrangements for reliable retrieval.

In 2001 Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore considered joining a local consortium of cultural institutions with the intent of using off-site storage for 20 to 25 percent of their book collections; however, this project has not been funded. Existing sites within the region for possible collaboration include a facility run by the University of Pennsylvania and another operated by Princeton University, Columbia University, and New York Public Library.

It became apparent during this planning grant that placing little-used books in an off-site location would limit opportunities for discovery and thereby further decrease the likelihood of their being used. When the Planning Group considered suggesting that the tables of contents of stored books be digitized, they were faced with the irony that they would be providing better access to their least-used collections. Nitecki and Kendrick (2001) call this the “paradox of off-site,” noting that users “begin to wonder why we can’t provide a higher level of service for all of our collections, not just the materials stored remotely.” These authors point out that an “off-site program puts pressure on research libraries to improve services across the board, not solely in support of collections transferred to the high-density shelving facility.”

Materials moved off-site are typically those that may be used once in a generation. The books benefit from security and preservation while the users trade the opportunity to shelf-browse for the opportunity to provide space for new materials and for requested programs and services. Nitecki and Kendrick noted that there is an “emerging theme in how readers think about sources of materials . . . and increased expectation that everything they need can be requested easily, reliably supplied and delivered to a convenient array of locations or via a useful array of technologies.”

Key Findings

  • Libraries need additional space not only to accommodate collection growth but also to provide new services such as multimedia production, writing centers, group study spaces, and common areas.
  • Minimizing duplication of purchases will not necessarily produce large space gains, but it will allow the libraries to save money that they may use to increase the depth and scope of the collections.
  • Important space gains might be made through weeding overlap copies of materials that have not circulated since online circulation began in 1991. To realize greater gains, the three libraries will need to expand the scope of materials considered for weeding and implement routine weeding programs. Building trust with faculty is critical to effective weeding programs.
  • Faculty members need to be engaged in discussions of the relative costs and benefits of deaccessioning and remote storage.
  • The availability of journals in electronic format is already creating significant space savings (an estimated 340 LF per year collectively among the three libraries). These savings will most likely continue to grow in the sciences and will eventually affect the social sciences and the humanities. Other significant space savings are being realized in reference and government documents. Space savings through purchase of electronic books will not be achieved for at least five years.


6Habich, Elizabeth Chamberlain. 1998. Moving Library Collections: A Management Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. Appendix A: Average widths of library materials, Figure A1.1.

7Nitecki, Danuta A., and Curtis L. Kendrick, eds. 2001. Library Off-Site Shelving: Guide for High-Density Facilities. Englewood, Colo.: Libraries Unlimited.

next section in this report >> | previous section >> | report contents >>

pub 115 abstract >>

Skip to content