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2. U.S. Regional Repositories: General Characteristics and Features

Each of the repositories included in this study was created in response to a shortage of storage space. All were seen as cost-effective, long-range means of satisfying individual universities’ and colleges’ need for economical and environmentally sound space to accommodate growing library collections and programs. Expanding or building additional on-campus storage was not possible for financial reasons, or because of lack of suitable on-campus land for construction, or both. The growth of undergraduate enrollments since the 1970s, and accompanying escalating demand for residential, cultural, pedagogical, laboratory, and recreational spaces on campus, made the idea of setting aside prime campus property for such inert activities as collections storage unappealing. At urban universities such as Columbia and the University of Southern California, there was simply no campus space on which to build.

In many cases, the repositories supplanted inadequate or interim storage space on- or off-campus. UC Berkeley moved 1.25 million volumes from an off-campus storage facility as the initial deposit to the NRLF. In other instances, the universities had been maintaining off-campus storage facilities in various locations. This practice was costly and provided only temporary relief for growing collections. Before joining with the NYPL and Princeton University to create ReCAP, Columbia University had more than one million volumes stored in three sites in Manhattan and the Bronx. ReCAP provided a single place to bring together materials that the NYPL had stored in several facilities in New York City.

All the libraries of the Five Colleges, Inc., faced a shortage of collections storage space. The building that became the Five Colleges repository had been purchased by Amherst College for general storage purposes. It was adapted for use for the college’s library collection when on-campus collections space ran short.

The need for new library storage was often affected by other developments in the university. At Duke, for example, the central university libraries had reached capacity in their on-campus collections storage and, at the same time, were launching an ambitious program of renovation and expansion that would require new swing space. Creation of the LSC was to be the first phase in a series of massive renovation and expansion projects.

Cooperative action was often prompted by the simultaneous recognition of a shared need for storage space on the part of state systems or existing consortia. In most cases, the repositories were the response of governing authorities to a system-wide space crisis that had been signaled by multiple requests for capital funds for new library buildings or expansions.

Such was the case in California. During the 1970s, recognition of a shortfall of space for storage of university library collections prompted the president of the University of California to seek a system-wide solution. Plans for the SRLF and NRLF originated with the so-called Salmon Plan of 1977, which was developed by a librarian working in the Office of the President (University of California Libraries 1977).

During the 1980s, a similar situation caused the regents of the State of Ohio’s universities to take interest in collections storage. The regents’ decision to create a system of library repositories stemmed from an effort to curb overall library spending. The repositories were one of two statewide library resource-sharing initiatives created at this time; the OhioLINK consortium was the second.4

ReCAP, by contrast, was the outgrowth of the recognition of a common crisis in collections storage space among a loosely related group of major research libraries in the northeast. Formal discussions among these libraries began in 1996, when Scott Bennett and Elaine Sloan, university librarians of Yale and Columbia Universities respectively, convened library directors to explore cooperative solutions to the problem. (Yale eventually decided to create its own storage facility.)

While space was the immediate reason for creation of the repositories, many of the participating facilities were part of larger system- or consortium-wide collection-related strategic initiatives. The same planning processes that created the regional facilities in California produced Melvyl, the consolidated online catalog of UC libraries. In Ohio, creation of the statewide system of “book repositories” was paired with establishment of OhioLink, which negotiates electronic licenses and other services on behalf of Ohio’s higher education libraries. CONStor was one of several initiatives bundled in an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation-funded project that resulted in the Five Colleges consortium.

2.1 Development Funding

Funding for the creation and operation of the repositories under discussion came from three kinds of sources:

  1. state (SRLF, NRLF, SWORD)
  2. consortium development (CONStor, ReCAP)
  3. single institution (LSC)

Construction of the regional repositories in California and Ohio was subsidized with funds allocated by the boards of regents of the respective states. The ReCAP repository was developed by a consortium financed by Columbia University, NYPL, and Princeton University. The costs of adapting the CONStor storage facility, which occupies leased space in an existing building, were borne by the members of the Five Colleges of Ohio, Inc. Under the single-institution model, Duke University financed and developed the LSC on land acquired by the university for the purpose.

2.2 Scale

The size and capacities of the repositories vary widely. ReCAP and SRLF can hold close to seven million volumes each. The smallest of the facilities studied, the CONStor repository, has a capacity of only 200,000 volumes. (See Appendices 1 and 4.)

Most of the facilities are built on the modular system and may be expanded at minimal cost as collections grow. Such expansion is limited only by the availability of adjoining land and the resources to fund construction. ReCAP, for instance, can expand with available land to accommodate an estimated 35 million volumes. The original plan for California’s NRLF envisioned the eventual construction of six modules, with a total capacity of 18 million volumes.

The CONStor and Five Colleges of Massachusetts facilities are not as easily scalable as are the purpose-built facilities. The CONStor facility, which shares a building with an unrelated organization, has little room for expansion.5

Actual occupancy rates range from 5.45 million volumes (the facility’s maximum capacity) at the NRLF facility to the 21,000 volume-equivalents at the CONStor facility (about 10 percent of that facility’s capacity).

2.3 Physical Plant

Most of the facilities consist almost entirely of space specifically designed or outfitted for collections storage. The newer facilities are configured for high- and medium-density storage. Minimal space is devoted to ancillary activities such as processing, cataloging, and preservation, and to amenities such as study and teaching spaces, which campus libraries typically provide. When human activity is limited, a closed system, with high levels of security and environmental controls, can be maintained more easily and economically, and resources can be wholly devoted to the creation of robust environmental controls and structural elements such as shelving.

Most of the repositories included in this study were purpose-built. The California repositories, WRLC, Duke’s LSC, the Ohio State facility, and ReCAP are all newly constructed and were specifically designed for storage. To achieve maximum storage density and efficiency, such buildings normally have 40-foot ceilings to accommodate shelving units. Retrieval of books is accomplished with the use of power-operated lifts for full-height spaces, or from decking placed at 10-foot intervals.

Some repositories occupy older buildings that have been refitted for storage. The CONStor facility, for example, occupies a portion of an old Carnegie public library. The building is owned and partially occupied by an architectural firm, from which CONStor leases space.

The Five Colleges of Massachusetts adapted a building that was built as a military bunker for the U.S. Air Force during the 1950s. The military later turned it over to the Federal Reserve Board, which sold it to Amherst College in 1992.

Most of the facilities studied contain environments adapted to long-term storage of paper-based library materials, with temperatures in the range of 40 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidities ranging from 30 to 50 percent. Some facilities that were repurposed, however, have had less than ideal conditions. In some cases, with mixed-use buildings climate control has had to be adjusted to accommodate human occupation as well as collections, and has resulted in suboptimal conditions for long-term storage. Single-function, and especially purpose-built buildings, provide better environmental conditions than do buildings that must handle multiple functions such as storage, study, computer operations, circulation, and processing and cataloging.

Perhaps the most sophisticated of the facilities surveyed is the SRLF at UCLA. It has an on-site microfilming operation that generates revenue as well as digital reformatting capabilities for print and film materials. The reading room is equipped with copiers and microform readers. The UCLA film and television archive is also housed at this facility (a condition of the original state funding of the second addition to this facility). UCLA recently received a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to build a 1,000-square-foot conservation lab in the SRLF workroom. The services of the lab will be offered to other SRLF libraries, possibly as a revenue-generating operation.

Like conventional off-site storage buildings, the repositories can be operated relatively inexpensively. Costs range from $ 0.17 to $2.38 per volume per year. The higher costs tend to be found in smaller facilities, which have not been able to achieve the economies of scale realized by the larger facilities.

2.4 Staffing

The staff-to-volume ratio at repositories is far lower than that at central libraries. The number of staff devoted to operation of the facility corresponds roughly to the amount of material stored at the facility. SRLF has more than 35 full-time equivalent staff, whereas fewer than five staff members spend time at the CONStor.

The economies of scale and highly regularized nature of the activities at the repositories permit staff, except for supervisors and facilities managers, to focus on a narrower range of tasks than do staff at full-service libraries. Tasks are relatively basic clerical or technician-level functions. This enables the repositories to make liberal use of students and unskilled workers.

2.5 Affiliated Services and Access

The repositories operate on the principle that specialization promotes efficiency and economy. It is more economical, they have found, to do a few things well than to try to offer the entire range of traditional library functions. For example, the repositories generally provide minimal core services for paper- and film-based materials. At the smaller repositories, services normally include unpacking, shelving, and retrieving materials. The larger facilities provide a wider menu of services, including basic cleaning, bar coding, labeling, delivery, and managing holdings control data (see Appendix 3).

Processing and preparation of materials for storage may take place at the originating libraries or at the facility. Processing entails changing location information in holdings records in the library’s online public access catalog (OPAC) or integrated library system (ILS), bar coding for control by the repository collection-management system, and other tasks. At ReCAP, materials must arrive already bar coded and prepared for shelving. At the California repositories, materials are processed at the repository.

Some repositories maintain their own materials-control system while others use the existing libraries’ OPAC. At NRLF, all records are maintained in GLADIS, the online integrated library system of UC Berkeley. GLADIS has special programming to accommodate processing at the NRLF. WRLC and the Five Colleges of Massachusetts record repository holdings in the common integrated library system already in use for the consortium. (The University of Massachusetts maintains its own separate collection OPAC as well, and the staff at the storage facility can update both systems.) The ReCAP libraries maintain separate online catalogs, but the consortium maintains a common inventory and circulation-control system for materials stored at the repository.

2.6 On-Campus Access to Materials

As Barbara Graham noted in her profile of the Harvard Depository, off-campus storage is viable only when it is accompanied by excellent intellectual access (through item-level cataloging and indexing) and rapid delivery of the materials to users (Graham 2001). The robustness of the services that the repositories provide for depositing libraries and patrons varies widely. Purpose-built centers, particularly the California regional facilities, tend to offer a broader array of services, including ILL, digital reformatting on demand, and microfilming. Others repositories offer a narrower range of services, namely, storage and retrieval.

At minimum, the repositories deliver materials from the facility to the depositing members’ campus libraries. The repositories surveyed all placed a great deal of emphasis on rapid service. Delivery times range from a few hours to 48 hours. In some instances, the repository operates a delivery van service to and from the campuses; in others, the universities pick up and return the materials. The SRLF shares the cost of its delivery service with the UCLA library, the major depositor at that facility.

Some repositories have gained favor with on-campus users by providing conveniences that were not available when the materials were stored on campus. The LSC, for example, delivers items to the patron’s choice of 12 on-campus libraries for charging. The patron can return the item to any campus library.

Most repositories also offer faculty and students of participating universities access to the aggregated monograph and serial holdings of all their depositing libraries. Such is the case with facilities operated by single jurisdictions, such as the statewide California regional library, the libraries in the OhioLink consortium, and CONStor. In some instances, however, these benefits were available prior to creation of the repository. Such access was a net gain for Columbia and Princeton Universities, whose partner in ReCAP, the NYPL, had not previously permitted circulation of its materials.6

2.7 Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery

Some of the repositories offer ILL and DD to libraries that are not members of the consortium. The two California regional facilities and the Five Colleges of Massachusetts have loan-processing and DD staff on the premises. These facilities fulfill loan requests from faculty and students at participating universities as well as requests from libraries outside the consortium. They do not route those requests to the depositing libraries. This service relieves the depositing libraries of the burden of servicing lesser-used collections, which can be particularly labor-intensive when those collections are located off-site. The other facilities simply retrieve materials requested for ILL or borrowing and deliver them to the depositing library for processing. ILL and DD requests for patrons from non-UC libraries go to the lending library, and the books stored at NRLF go to the owning library for ILL or DD distribution.

2.8 On-Site Use of Collections

The repositories vary in the extent to which they provide on-site access to their deposited collections. Many do not encourage on-site use of materials; instead, they promote delivery of materials to campus reading rooms. The purpose-built facilities have high-density storage. Shelving configurations and the practice of arranging materials by size and accession number make browsing difficult. Faculty members cite the inability to browse the shelves and the lack of proximity to the collections as major drawbacks to repository storage.

To compensate for the collections’ distance from campus, some repositories maintain reading rooms. The fullest menu of on-premises services is offered by the California regional facilities, which feature study rooms and permit on-site charging of materials to individuals holding UC library borrowers’ cards. These facilities also permit stack access to certain collections for graduate students, faculty, and librarians. Most repositories are lightly staffed for reference purposes, and most require that users make arrangements in advance for on-site consultation of collections.

The privilege of on-site use tends to be confined to those who require access to large amounts of materials or very fragile materials. Not all repositories permit on-site use of fragile, special collections, or special-format materials, because such materials require special handling and more controlled conditions of use than on-site staff can provide.

The Massachusetts Five-College facility has the most liberal policy for on-site use of collections. Its reading room is open to the general public. This is because two participants in the consortium, Amherst College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, are federal depository libraries. Government documents are housed at the repository, and public access is a statutory requirement.

A few facilities prohibit on-site use. The CONStor facility, for instance, has no provision for study use and requires that requestors consult repository-held materials in on-campus libraries or offices.7

2.9 Configuration of Collections

The ways in which space is allocated and collections are configured vary from one repository to the next. To optimize use of space, books and serials are normally shelved by size and accession number rather than by call number. This makes it impossible to browse the collections. Materials are generally shelved in order of receipt, regardless of the source library and even when the depositing library retains ownership of the materials.

In a few instances, the individual libraries’ collections are maintained as discrete bodies of materials. In the ReCAP facility, for example, the holdings of each of the participating libraries are shelved separately. This complicates the allocation and planning for use of space. Materials from non-UC libraries stored at the NRLF are also maintained separately. As a rule, special-collections materials are maintained separately.

The Five Colleges repository consists of two discrete areas: the space in which Amherst College currently stores its own library collections and special-collections storage, and the space where the combined holdings of the Five Colleges are stored.8


4 Private institutions in Ohio can participate in OhioLink but to date are not eligible for use of the repository storage facilities.

5 At most, CONStor could expand into an additional room, which would increase storage capacity by approximately 25 percent (50,000 items).

6 There are limits to this service. Materials in the California repositories can be placed on reserve only by faculty from the university whose library deposited the materials.

7 On-site access to repository materials by depositing libraries does not apply to materials stored by the repositories such as the LSC and California regional facilities for nonconsortium or nonsystem libraries on a leased-space arrangement.

8 Amherst College Library has more than 100,000 volumes in storage at the facility. These are currently separate physically and by ownership from the Five-Colleges materials. The college hopes that the faculty will agree to add the bulk of that material to the Five-Colleges collection.


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