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Creating Study Spaces for Students

Nancy L. Baker, University Librarian

I am excited to report that the University is currently preparing to build an off-site high density archival collection facility for the Libraries. And, what exactly is that? For many years, the University Libraries have been severely overcrowded. As our collections have grown, book stacks have replaced study space. The fourth and fifth floor book stacks in the Main Library are shelved so tightly, it can be difficult to pull a book from the shelf without bringing along all of its neighbors.

All large research libraries have a certain portion of their collections that need to be preserved even though they are infrequently used. An off-site high density archival facility is designed to house these collections in a cost-effective, preservation-sensitive environment. In these kinds of facilities, books are arranged by size not by subject and are densely shelved to take full advantage of the space. The temperature and humidity is ideal for long-term preservation of print materials but is too cold for people to tolerate as a work space.

Because these books do not have to be retrieved frequently, the facility can be off-campus, leaving prime campus real estate to other uses. There are now at least 34 such facilities used by research libraries around the country because they are considerably less expensive than a traditional library addition and can house many more collections under better conditions in a smaller footprint. Service is clearly an important element. Books will be brought to campus as requested and whenever possible, individual articles will be digitized at the facility for electronic delivery to the requestor’s desktop.

By moving lesser used materials to this facility, the Libraries will free up badly needed space for users. The number of available seats in the University Libraries falls well below acceptable standards. It has been difficult to accommodate user needs for different types of work space, such as quiet areas, group study areas, and individual studies. During especially busy times in the semester, I have often seen small groups of students huddled in a circle on the floor of the Main Library so they can work as a group without disturbing others. Students regularly complain about the lack of quiet study space, void of cell phones, computers and conversation. The number of individual graduate studies has had to be severely reduced over the years, much to the dismay of graduate students.

So most important of all, this facility is a critical first step in the improvement of user spaces which is why this is such an exciting development for the UI Libraries.