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Until the mid-1970s, academic libraries in the United States responded to the demands for increased stack space by building new facilities or by expanding existing ones. By the late 1970s, with tuition costs rising, college officials began looking for ways to reduce library expenditures. Hoping to avoid construction costs, they asked librarians to look at alternatives to open-shelf storage of library materials. In response, librarians considered the use of microforms and of off-site storage centers, or depositories, for some of the older and less-used library materials in their collections.

Although the establishment of depository libraries initially caused controversy on many campuses, the idea of storing and preserving less-used periodicals and books in remote storage centers has grown and received grudging acceptance. This paper looks at the advantages and disadvantages, the economics, and the political issues associated with depository libraries. It considers the influence electronic publishing has had on the storage of paper publications. It also describes a plan developed by Five Colleges, Inc. (Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, Smith College, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst) that calls for deaccessioning duplicates within a jointly administered depository collection.

Alternatives to Open-Shelf Storage of Library Materials


In the 1970s and 1980s, many librarians saw microforms as an important but partial answer to the need to expand storage space. The purchase of monumental microform sets, such as “Early American Imprints,” enabled academic libraries to acquire these important research materials with a minimal investment in shelving space. Newer libraries found that they could acquire complete backruns of important periodicals without having to create thousands of feet of shelving to store them. The U.S. Government began publishing many of its documents on microfiche, and there was a proliferation of scientific and technical reports published on microforms.

In addition to its virtue of saving space, the medium received the endorsement of preservationists. Commercial vendors and research libraries microfilmed deteriorating newspapers, the backruns of periodicals, and books printed on paper with high acid content. Efforts were made to preserve deteriorating manuscript collections on microforms. Microforms sometimes became the medium of choice for the preservation of college or university records.

Despite their advantages, microforms solved only part of a larger problem. Libraries still needed additional shelving space. Furthermore, most researchers were not enthusiastic about having to use microforms. The quality of the copying on microforms was not always good-pages were sometimes omitted or the material was not always in focus. Microfilming was generally done in black and white, making it difficult to view color and half-tone illustrations. Despite these shortcomings, librarians replaced the original publications with microfilm and discarded the original paper copies. Nicholson Baker (2000) addressed this issue in the July 24, 2000, issue of The New Yorker, and more recently in his book, Double Fold (2001), in which he took librarians to task for having discarded the original volumes of newspapers when they were replaced by microforms.

Microforms came in many different formats (for example, microfilm, microfiche, microprint, and ultrafiche), and each format usually required its own equipment. The equipment required to view and print microforms was expensive and difficult to use; it needed frequent servicing; and parts for older reader/printers were hard to find. The more elaborate reader/printers were so complicated that patrons often required staff assistance to use them. Printing from microforms was often difficult for users. Finally, reading microforms over a sustained period of time caused physical discomforts such as eye strain and neck cramps. As a result of such problems, patrons’ reactions to microforms were negative.

Electronic Publishing

Electronic publishing provides a promising answer to the library space problem. The quality of electronic reproductions is usually high, images can easily be produced or reproduced in color, and text and images can be viewed on standard computer monitors and easily printed. Most important, the text and image databases can be stored on a server that is maintained by a manager of database services who is not employed by the library. The library must provide only enough space to house the public access computers and printers.

JSTOR and Project MUSE are two notable examples of electronic publishing. William G. Bowen, president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, conceived the idea and promoted the development of JSTOR, as an “effort to ease the increasing problems faced by libraries seeking to provide adequate stack space for the long runs of back files of scholarly journals” (JSTOR 2001).

In 1990, JSTOR provided electronic access to the back files of 10 journals and made them available from a database at the University of Michigan and Princeton University to five libraries serving as test sites. Linking high-resolution bitmapped images (600 dpi) of each page to text files generated with optical character recognition software, JSTOR was able to provide for the search and retrieval of the journals’ contents (JSTOR 2001). Building on the success of this pilot program, JSTOR expanded its database and offered it to academic libraries with a firm promise that it would remain available indefinitely. Furthermore, JSTOR offered users the important new capability of being able to search the journals singly or in clusters.

Faculty in most institutions expressed enthusiasm for JSTOR, but they were still reluctant to give up the paper journals that it duplicated. They saw the advantage of using JSTOR for reference purposes but were reluctant to read extensively from a computer monitor. Although printing long articles was an option, they cited the waste of paper and the time required. Individuals who were interested in color illustrations preferred to see the originals. In short, many faculty members still wanted to be able to see the paper journals.

Project MUSE, a collaborative effort by Johns Hopkins University Press and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library at Johns Hopkins University, was supported substantially by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and first presented to libraries in early 1995. With the Internet infrastructure firmly in place by that time, Project MUSE was established with a nonproprietary client/server software platform and with access provided by domain Internet Protocol (IP). The concerns of the developers of Project MUSE were to meet the needs of scholars and readers, maintain publication quality, retain the identity of the journal, and make electronic journals affordable (Project MUSE 2001). Current issues of 42 electronic journals were offered initially, and the project made a commitment to offer electronic access to these publications indefinitely. Users had the right to make printed copies within copyright guidelines, and there was no limit to the number of times a journal could be read or printed.

Since 1995, Project MUSE has added more than 120 journals from other scholarly publishers to its database, bringing the total number of publications available online to more than 160. Titles cover literature and criticism, history, the visual and performing arts, cultural studies, education, political science, gender studies, and other fields.

Many faculty members responded warily to Project MUSE’s offerings of current periodicals online. When asked to give up the duplicated paper journal subscriptions, faculty asked for time to evaluate the electronic offerings. Some feared that the commitment to maintain older issues online would not be honored over time; others expressed concern that the publisher might find electronic publication unprofitable and discontinue the service. Faculty members also complained of eye fatigue from prolonged reading of online journals.

Librarians checked the commitments of the publishers to continued electronic publications, were reassured by the responses they received, and expressed confidence that Project MUSE would remain in existence. They began cataloging the electronic versions of the Project Muse journals and publicizing their availability, in the hope that more and more library patrons would find and use them.

Early Depository Libraries

Keyes Metcalf reports that cooperative storage of infrequently used books was first proposed in 1902 by Harvard President Charles W. Eliot, who was hard-pressed to provide the Harvard College Library with a new building to house its growing collection. President Eliot was unsuccessful because the librarians and faculty were “unwilling to face the inconvenience that would result, they believed, if a part of the library collections were transferred to storage.” Metcalf notes that President Eliot’s proposal was seriously handicapped from the beginning because of his use of the term “dead books” to describe the volumes to be stored (Metcalf 1957).

New England Deposit Library

It was not until the founding of the New England Deposit Library in 1938 that President Eliot’s idea of a book depository was revived (Metcalf 1957). Writing in 1945, Robert Downs reported that the idea of inexpensive centralized storage for little-used books was discussed during the intervening years. However, only one depository library, the New England Deposit Library in Boston, serving Harvard University, Boston Public Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other institutions in the area, was created. The stated purpose of this first depository was economy of storage, elimination of duplication, and the division of fields among libraries (Downs 1945).

The Midwest Inter-Library Center (MILC)

In the 1930s, 13 Midwestern university presidents discussed plans for a deposit library, and in 1940, these presidents approved a proposal for the establishment of a storage facility as well as cooperative purchase and preservation programs. The MILC opened in 1951 with a cooperative acquisitions program-subscriptions to 40 newspapers in microfilm. In the mid-1960s, the Center changed its name to the Center for Research Libraries (CRL) and broadened its membership and its interests to include international cooperative collection development. (Center for Research Libraries 2001). By the 1980s, CRL was focusing mostly on developing a cooperative collection development and access program for little-used and rarely held materials.

The Hampshire Inter-Library Center (HILC)

HILC was another example of library cooperation in western Massachusetts, and possibly the first collaborative library depository to have liberal arts college members. The colleges of the Connecticut Valley (Amherst, Dartmouth, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Trinity, Wesleyan, Williams, and the College of Hartford) discussed central storage of large reference collections in the 1940s (Downs 1945). In 1951, a subset of this group-Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith-created the Hampshire Inter-Library Center as “a joint repository for rare and little-used periodicals, serials, and monographs impractical for any one institution to acquire, but nevertheless desirable for research purposes” (Peterson 1984). In subsequent years, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst joined HILC, as did Hampshire College when it opened in 1970. Since the campuses of these colleges are within 15 miles of each other, there was a strong incentive for cooperation. This was first realized by the libraries, and subsequently by the institutions as a whole, when they created Five Colleges, Inc. in 1965 and hired a full-time Five College Coordinator in 1967.

Between 1951 and the mid-1970s, the HILC collection grew to approximately 60,000 volumes and microforms. The library directors restricted the collection to material that increased the research resources of the area, avoiding material that any of the participating libraries would not have acquired themselves (Metcalf 1957). The collection was housed initially at Mount Holyoke College. Later, it was moved to the University of Massachusetts Library, and finally to the Amherst College Library. Each host institution provided space, heat, and light without charge. Personnel costs and the expense of operating a separate book delivery service were shared.

HILC concentrated on periodical subscriptions not held by the five libraries. As journal issues were received, they were circulated for one month to each of the libraries that requested them. They were then returned to HILC, where they were available on request. The staff included the HILC coordinator, a part-time assistant, and a person who was responsible for delivering books twice a day among the five libraries (a service that has been continued).

HILC enjoyed the support of faculty and administrators from 1951 until the mid-1970s. By then, most of the member colleges had built new library space, and they had less need for a shared depository collection. The University Library, in particular, had evolved into a sizable research library that was housed in a newly constructed 26-story tower that offered space for many years of collection growth. With adequate storage space in their own libraries for years to come, the library directors were doubtful that continuing to maintain a sixth library (HILC) was cost-beneficial. Four consultants (Louis Martin [Harvard University], Donald Engley [Yale University], Richard De Gennaro [University of Pennsylvania], and David Kaser [Indiana University]) confirmed the library directors’ opinion, and the HILC collection was divided among the institutions on the basis of their interests and academic strengths.

Continuing Net Growth of Paper Collections

JSTOR and Project MUSE continue to provide leadership in the development of responsible approaches to electronic publication. They produce high-quality online electronic text of important journals and provide firm guarantees that they will maintain their databases indefinitely. Nonetheless, even with relief from organizations such as JSTOR and Project MUSE, the need to find additional shelving for ever-growing academic library paper collections continues.

There are, moreover, few signs that the rate of growth will change substantially in the next few years. The Bowker Annual reports that the total American book title output reached 120,244 in 1998, an increase of 982 titles, or a little less than 1 percent, over 1997 (Ink 2000). Because of a change in the way in which UNESCO collects data on book title output worldwide, the latest data are for 1996. For those countries reporting titles published in both 1994 and 1996, the increase over that two-year period was 10.7 percent (Greco 2000).

As early as 1985, John Boll predicted that “[Storage space pressures] will continue until academic libraries turn from storage and delivery and in-house use centers to switching stations that store very little themselves but primarily search electronic supplies and/or central data banks, then sift and winnow the available material for pertinence and quality, and deliver-in-house or long distance-selected, individually tailored print-outs of citations and text on demand” (Boll 1985, 15).

It may take 5 to 10 years before electronic publication gains sufficient acceptance worldwide to cause a substantial reduction in the rate of paper publication. In the meantime, librarians must provide space, equipment, and staff to make information available in a variety of formats. For the immediate future, they must find cost-effective ways to manage their still-growing paper collections.

Compact Shelving in the Campus Library:
An Intermediate Step

Studies by Michael Cooper (1991) and others have shown that the number of times an item is circulated influences the cost per volume for storage. Cooper suggests that if a book circulates seven or more times in its lifetime, open-stack storage is cost-effective. An item that circulates fewer than seven times should be considered for compact or off-site storage.

With studies such as these in mind, some librarians identified portions of their collections that were less used and moved those volumes into newly installed movable compact shelving. The public still had access to this material, but they were mildly disadvantaged by having to wait for the shelving units to open, or for other library users to vacate already open aisles. The important consideration was that the books were still available on campus. But before long, even with the added capacity provided by compact shelving, space for new books was again exhausted. Administrators and trustees were unrelenting: The libraries could not be expanded. The only remaining solution was to store materials that were unlikely to be requested frequently in off-site facilities.

Off-Site Storage Considerations

Faculty and some librarians initially decried the anticipated loss of immediate access to library materials that they had taken for granted as an unwritten condition of their employment. Typical faculty comments, and librarians’ responses, were as follows:

  • Faculty suggested that their teaching would suffer if they could not have immediate access to the books and periodicals they needed to illustrate points in the classroom. Librarians responded by offering to retrieve materials quickly and by offering to send them electronically to the departments of the requesting faculty.
  • Art and science professors suggested that black-and-white reproductions of needed materials might not be adequate. Librarians offered to supply the actual book or periodical within 24 hours or to make it available within hours, if the person making the request was able to visit the storage facility.
  • Faculty and librarians worried about the amount of their time it would take to select items for off-site storage. In response, librarians generated computer lists of periodicals by field and frequency of circulation.
  • Faculty and librarians were concerned about making the library less a storage place for books and more an information service center. This was a fundamental change in emphasis for many libraries, and no one knew what the ramifications would be.


The principal concern about an off-site storage facility was that users could not browse the off-site storage center’s stacks if it did not have a subject classification arrangement for its books. Faculty fondly recalled instances of having perused “their” section of the library stacks; although arriving with no particular title in mind, they often found the “best” book for their research topic. Such things do happen, and for this reason, browsing is a useful way to test the acceptability of a system imposed through the classification process. Also, picking a book off the shelf and flipping through it is easier, and usually more informative, than is requesting a book through the library’s paging system on the basis of its catalog description.

Nevertheless, as Boll has observed, subject classification, the basis on which the books in most academic libraries are shelved, has several limiting factors (Boll 1985). First, classification schemes sometimes scatter different aspects of a single topic throughout the classification; the subject cataloger’s view of a topic may be broader than the classification schedule allows. In addition, the classification schedule may have been revised since its first use, causing newer books to be separated from older books on the same subject. Finally, the Library of Congress (LC) may have classed the item geographically rather than by precise topic, or have used alphabetical rather than logical subsequences.

There are other reasons why the unsuspecting stack visitor stands a much less than anticipated chance of finding relevant materials through browsing. For example, the item may be in circulation, on reserve, in the reference collection, in a branch library, or in the special collections. If it is a government document, microform, or map, the document may not be classified at all. Nevertheless, browsing a section of the stacks is a legitimate and worthwhile way of supplementing a search for information. Transferring a portion of a library’s collection to an off-site storage center prevents, or at least discourages, browsing, because even if materials are arranged in classification order in a storage collection and if patrons are allowed to use the collection for browsing (as is the case at Stanford University’s Auxiliary Library), they will be much less likely to take the time and trouble to visit the storage facility than they would be to visit the stacks on campus.

Economics of Off-Site Storage

If library stacks are to be browsable, books of different heights must be shelved together. Such an arrangement causes a space loss of 25 to 35 percent per shelf (Boll 1985, 19). Compact but browsable shelving usually doubles the capacity of a stack area. However, shelving by size, as can be done in a closed-access collection, can triple the storage capacity. Moreover, narrower aisles, as well as deeper and higher compact shelving, can quadruple the capacity of a normal shelving area. The savings are apparent.

Two additional factors contribute to cost savings in an off-site storage collection. First, it may be possible to maintain better climate control for the materials being stored (for example, a colder temperature than is practical in stack areas open to users), thus prolonging their life. Second, the increased security of a remote, closed-access collection could reduce the incidence of theft and the associated costs for replacements.

On the other side, the substantial effort necessary to identify and transfer the items to be stored must be considered, as must the cost of changing online catalog records to indicate the new location of the material. Since changing the location of serial volumes on catalog records may cost less than changing the records for individual books, librarians often begin with the transfer of serials. Using a “global transfer” to change locations on catalog records for all books in a given classification can also provide major savings.

The Decision to Create an Off-Site Storage Center

Librarians, faculty, and students prefer to have the library materials they need close at hand, where they can readily be found. In the case of little-used items, the benefits of ease of access must be weighed against the costs of maintaining infrequently consulted materials in prime locations on campus. The decision to create an off-site storage center is usually driven by budget concerns. Consequently, it is sometimes made by the president or the board of trustees of a college or university, despite the stated preferences of the director of the library (Paquette 1990). In some cases, a decision to establish an off-site storage center may be influenced by the unexpected availability of suitable space, or by an invitation from a consortium to participate in maintaining and using an off-site storage center. Librarians who realize that their institutions are considering off-site storage sometimes look for available sites or opportunities to cooperate with other institutions with similar needs. And after the decision is made, no matter what position the director of libraries has taken, he or she should have the documentation and statistics necessary to defend the choice to faculty and staff, and should make the documentation available to everyone concerned with the decision.

The Establishment of the Amherst College Library Depository

Having opened its new, six-floor, 120,000-square-foot Robert Frost Library in 1965, Amherst College assumed it would not have to build more library space for many years. When it was dedicated, the Frost Library had about 330,000 volumes. Its shelves were less than one-half filled, and the basement was used for general storage because it was not yet needed for library purposes. However, the library was acquiring approximately 15,000 volumes per year, and the shelves on the top five floors were soon filled. The college was forced to move its general storage area to another building and to install electrically controlled compact shelving in its basement.

Because Amherst was among the earliest users of electrically controlled compact shelving, there was concern about its safety. One professor had books paged rather than browsing the stacks, because he was worried about being crushed between the movable shelves. The compact shelving provided twice the book storage space the library could have anticipated for one floor. Nonetheless, by 1989, shelves throughout the building were filled to the point where frequent shifting was required to make room for new volumes. It was apparent that the time had come to plan for the growth of the Frost Library’s collections.

In November 1989, the president of the college appointed a Library Expansion Committee made up of trustees, faculty, administrators, librarians, and students. “The expansion of the Library is expected to be the single largest and most expensive construction project in the history of the College: at current estimate, its cost will exceed one-third of the annual operating budget . . . ,” the president stated. He emphasized that the Library, which is at the heart of much of the educational activity of the College, should be the best of its kind in every area, but that finances are a serious concern and cannot be ignored” (Amherst College 1989).

The Library Expansion Committee submitted its report on February 27, 1991. The report requested that 79,000 square feet be added to the current 120,000 square-foot library, and that the 27-year-old building be renovated. The committee also recommended that the trustees engage an architectural firm to outline design options for meeting the library’s future needs. Initial estimates, made in the absence of architectural assistance, placed the cost of the expansion and renovation at $26 to $29 million (Amherst College 1991).

The cost estimate came as a shock to the president and trustees. In response, in April 1991, the trustees authorized the hiring of an architectural firm, Childs, Bertman, Tseckares, and Casendino of Boston, working with Linea 5 of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to prepare a report on the library’s space needs. The architects presented their report to the trustees in January 1992. Confirming earlier projections, the report estimated that it would cost $29 million to expand the library by 79,000 square feet and to renovate the existing structure (Childs Bertman Tseckares Inc., Architects, and Linea 5, Inc., Associated Architects 1992).

The board of trustees asked about other needs on campus and put the library project on hold for a year until those needs could be assessed by a newly appointed campus-wide Priorities and Planning Committee, which was cochaired by the dean of faculty and the college treasurer. During the hiatus, the president asked the Library Expansion Committee to scale back the project and to create a program that would cost no more than $12 million. The committee prepared the requested proposal and presented it to the president on November 1, 1992 (Amherst College Library Expansion Committee 1992).

Meanwhile, in the summer of 1992, the college treasurer noticed that the Federal Reserve was planning to auction a 44,000-square-foot Strategic Air Command Base it had acquired from the U.S. Air Force. The base, commonly referred to as “the bunker,” was located approximately four miles south of Amherst College. A portion of the bunker was built into the side of the Holyoke Range, and the balance was covered with 25 feet of rock and 7 feet of earth. In 1992, Amherst acquired the 26-acre site and the bunker for $510,000, or $11.59 per square foot. Although the College purchased the bunker for general storage purposes, it quickly became apparent that it could be used as an off-site storage center for library materials.

In March 1993, the Priorities and Planning Committee recommended that no new square footage be added to any building on campus unless a review of the use of existing facilities had indicated that there were no opportunities for their reuse or adaptation. The committee also recommended that the college begin at once to plan for and to initiate a comprehensive fundraising campaign to meet large capital needs (Amherst College 1993). In response, the trustees instructed the library director to develop a third plan for the renovation and expansion of the library that would include using the bunker as a remote storage area for books. The new plan, prepared by the library director, called for renovating approximately one-third of the bunker as a depository and for transferring about 75,000 volumes, or 10 percent of the general collection and a large portion of the archives and special collections, to this off-site facility. The estimated cost was $1 million in 1993.

At the bunker, the usable old equipment was sold. Most non-load-bearing walls were removed. Compact stacks with a capacity for about 100,000 volumes were installed. A building that could have been the inspiration for Dr. Strangelove was transformed into a library depository (“You can’t fight in here . . . this is the War Room!”) (Dr. Strangelove 1964).


Fig. 1.
Bunker-main entrance


Fig. 2.
Bunker-secondary entrance


Fig. 3.
Bunker-war room

With space for the growth of the collection assured by the purchase and renovation of the bunker, the librarians, with architect William H. Rowe, revised the plans for the renovation of the Frost Library. The librarians also began planning for the renovation of the Keefe Science Library. According to the plan, the removal of large numbers of periodical volumes and some books would free up space for a new, state-of-the-art Media Center with 36 generously equipped, online workstations. Users could access audiovisual materials or the college’s language laboratory. There would be ample space for the library’s growing videotape and videodisc collections, and analog and digital videotape editing stations could be provided. The reading and work areas of the Archives and Special Collections Department would be renovated. The Technical Services Department would move to a floor that had previously housed stacks, and the entire main floor would be renovated, expanded, and wired for computers. The heating and air-conditioning system would be upgraded.

The trustees allocated about $6 million for the renovation of the Frost Library. At the same time, the library was taking a major step away from being collection oriented and toward becoming a service center. Some librarians and faculty lamented the change; others accepted it without comment. In the end, all understood that the reason for the change was cost. The trustees were unwilling to spend $29 million for the library when the college had so many other important needs.

Selecting Materials for the Depository

It was necessary to develop a plan for deciding which materials would be sent to the new depository. The goal was to identify about 75,000 volumes from the Frost and Keefe Library collections for transfer. The obvious first choice was less-used backruns of serials. The librarians generated a list of all the library’s serial titles and circulated it to every member of the faculty. This may have seemed like overkill to some; however, the librarians knew that academic chairs sometimes neglected to communicate with faculty in their departments, and the librarians wanted to make sure that all faculty members had the list and could participate in the selection process. The librarians suggested that less-used science serials more than 10 years old and humanities and social science serials more than 20 years old be candidates for transfer. Librarians met with individual faculty members and with groups and explained the necessity to select volumes for transfer quickly.

On the whole, cooperation was excellent. Faculty members in some departments were reluctant to propose the transfer of any titles, suggesting that they did not want to be deprived of immediate access to the material. In a few cases, the librarian had to intervene and insist that the faculty select a reasonable number of titles; however, most faculty members were remarkably responsible. Interdisciplinary titles were sometimes a problem. Faculty members in one field might be ready to relegate the backrun of a title to the depository while their colleagues in a related field were adamant that the same title had to remain on campus. Negotiation, often mediated by a librarian, resolved these problems. The burden of selecting the titles that did not fall within any one discipline was assumed by the librarians-in particular, the head of reference and the serials librarian.

At the end of this difficult but necessary process, the faculty and librarians had identified about 65,000 serial volumes for transfer to the depository. To meet the goal of 75,000 volumes, 10,000 more volumes had to be selected.

Book Transfers

If it was difficult to select backruns of serials for transfer to the off-site storage center, it was even harder to select monographs for the depository. Reasoning that there might be less demand for older books in the sciences and technology (Dewey Decimal Classifications 500 and 600), the librarians proposed the transfer of books in these fields published before 1974. These books were easily identified because the library had switched to the LC Classification System in 1975. Consultations with science faculty revealed that they were willing to part with most of these older books, but they wanted to retain the classic works in their fields on campus. Faculty identified the classic books, and the catalogers reclassified them into the LC Classification System. Catalogers then performed a “global transfer” to change the location on the online catalog records to indicate that the remaining books were now part of the depository collection. Because their anticipated use was greater, books in the humanities and social sciences were retained in the Frost Library.

The 75,000-volume target had been reached; faculty and librarians were still on friendly terms; and there were no hostile remarks in full faculty meetings. In fact, the project strengthened the relationship between faculty and librarians in an unexpected way. Because the librarians made a major effort to explain the reasons for the transfers, because they were patient and understanding about the difficult decisions the faculty had to make about the collection, and because they were willing to negotiate differences of opinion, librarians earned the faculty members’ trust and respect.

Archives and Special Collections Transfers

The selection of materials to be transferred from the Archives and Special Collections Department required a great deal of thought. Fortunately, sensitive and often irreplaceable items from this department could be transferred to secure, separate rooms in the depository.

Key Depository Decisions

As part of their effort to gain faculty members’ consent for the transfer of the materials to the depository, the librarians offered to shelve the collection by classification number order, rather than by size and accession order. This meant a loss of 25 percent to 35 percent of shelving space; however, it seemed a reasonable price to pay for the faculty’s cooperation. Librarians also pointed out that volumes transferred to the bunker could still be browsed, if patrons were willing to visit the depository stacks, where the temperature fluctuated between 50 and 52 degrees Fahrenheit.

The library’s positive experience with open-access, electrically controlled compact shelving at the Frost Library influenced the choice of compact shelving for the depository, but because it was anticipated that users would seldom enter the stack area, manually operated, rather than electrically controlled shelving, was installed.

Environmental decisions for the depository were critical. The librarians knew that it was important to insist on a “friendly” environment for the materials stored there. Temperature was not a problem. The natural temperature of this underground building was ideal for the storage of books. Humidity was another matter. Equipment had to be installed to reduce the humidity. There were other problems as well. The roof, covered with thick layers of rocks and earth, developed a leak and had to be repaired. Alarm systems were required. New lighting had to be installed. The heavy lead door at the main entrance had to be replaced, and a small reading room, as well as a reception room and staff work area, had to be built in a heated area.

Moving the Collections

Professional book movers were hired to transfer the materials from both the Frost and Science Libraries. Archives and special collections materials were transported separately by staff and a volunteer from the Friends of the Library. After the transfer was complete, the professional book movers reshelved major sections of the Frost Library stacks so that the collection would be in A-to-Z order for the LC-classified portion and in 001-to-999 order in the Dewey-classified section. The book movers also respaced the remaining collection to close the gaps produced by the transfers and make room for future growth.


Staffing proved to be more of a problem than had been anticipated. A member of the library staff was transferred to the depository to shelve incoming materials, find and supply requested items, welcome visiting users, maintain records of use, and safeguard the collection. In addition, the College’s Physical Plant Department assigned responsibility for maintaining the bunker to one of its staff members. After the bunker was well established, the Physical Plant Department agreed to reassign that staff member to spend approximately one-half of his time on library-related work. Concerns about personal safety at the bunker were addressed in part by providing portable telephones for staff members who work there. The anticipated increase in the number of staff members working at the bunker in the future should also help address staff feelings of isolation.

Use of the Depository Collection

Use statistics for fiscal year 1998­1999 indicate that 120 items, or slightly more than two items per week, circulated from the Amherst College Library Depository to faculty, students, and staff. With approximately 90,000 volumes stored at the depository by that year, the percentage of circulation from that collection to Amherst users was a phenomenally low 0.0013 percent. In 1999­2000, the total number of depository items circulated to Amherst College users was 458 items out of a total of approximately 100,000 items, or 0.00458 percent. The total number of items entered into general circulation, including Five-College loans and interlibrary loans, was 461 in 1998­1999 and 635 in 1999­2000. The demand for the materials was extremely modest. On-site use was surprisingly minimal as well. Since its opening, only one or two faculty per year visited the depository to consult library materials stored there.

There are two ways to look at these use statistics. The librarians and faculty could take credit for having picked the “right” materials for the bunker, that is, items that were requested very rarely. Another, more negative, way to interpret the figures is that had those volumes been readily available on the open shelves in an expanded Frost Library, use would have been far greater. Students, hard-pressed for time to complete papers, might not have been able to wait for delivery of requested material in the normal depository turnaround time of 24 hours. Faculty might have decided that the inconvenience was too great. But at least one Amherst faculty member had a delightfully positive reaction. After visiting the bunker, he wrote:

I used the depository once this year. I wanted to thumb through all of the Library’s many volumes of the Franco-era liberal literary quarterly, Papeles de Son Armadans, which had been removed from the stacks to the depository. I didn’t know just what I wanted, but I knew that it was there. After a fit of petulance at the Library’s reluctance to move the whole pile from bunker to College, I went to the mountain instead. I’d been told that the people there were nice, and helpful. So one day I drove up with my wife. [The library staff member] had put all the books on a rolling shelf; she gave me a room where I could look at them. After I’d done this, and picked a few to take back with me, Tom, the caretaker, whom I knew from when he worked at Frost, said he’d take us through the redoubt. A thrilling tour: dead air and bright fluorescence; war room now crammed with art objects; tunnels . . . to make you feel that you’d escaped catastrophe to revisit it as theme park. My reading of the Papeles was mellow and fruitful; it set up a semester of teaching modern Spanish literature.1


1 Letter, James E. Maraniss to Willis Bridegam, April 24, 2000.

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