Campus libraries are almost out of storage space

In the early 2000s, Carnegie Mellon began investing in an off-campus collection site for its libraries. According to a 2006 paper written by Carnegie Mellon librarians Susan Collins, Linda Dujmic, and Terry Hurlbert, the planning for off-site storage began in 2002. Numerous options were considered: creating additional stacks for books, which would limit space; weeding out (reselling or recycling) books, which wouldn’t solve the space problem; and the eventual solution, adding an off-site collection.

Almost twenty years since the first off-site planning began, the library system is running out of space again. Currently, the total capacity of Hunt Library is half a million volumes, and it is considered to be at full capacity. Other on-site locations, like Sorrells Library and the Mellon College Library, are considered to be at capacity, too. The off-site collection, at another half a million volumes, was projected to be at capacity after twenty years of use, starting around 2006. The paper from librarians Collins, Dujmic, and Hulbert, reads, “The off-site facility was designed to be constructed in phases. Half is complete and will house approximately 225,000 volumes, meeting our storage needs for ten years.”

According to Alicia Salaz, Associate Dean of Research and Academic Services, “there are currently approximately half a million volumes at the off-site Penn Ave facility — with space for another 40,000 or so items. This is not a lot of wiggle room.” The lack of space for the library puts them in almost the same position as they were in almost twenty years ago, with space running out for better, higher-value collections. Salaz wrote in an email to The Tartan, “our near-to-midrange collections strategy, therefore, has to consider either expanding the space available, discarding low-value collections to make room for new, higher-value collections, or a combination of these.”

The library system will have to either add new stacks at the expense of student study space, weed out books at the expense of losing lower value books, or increase off-site storage space.

Last week, The Tartan reported that the library system is not interested in increasing the physical presence of collections on campus. The priority for on-site space has been student study space and classroom space. Recent renovations in Hunt Library and Sorrells Library are examples of the library’s priority for student study space. According to gate counts at Hunt and Sorrells libraries provided by Salaz, the number of students to visit Hunt Library in Sep. 2013 was 88,902. In Sep. 2019, there were 72,125 visitors to Hunt Library. Sorrells Library saw 37,505 people in Sep. 2013 and 58,201 in Sep. 2019.

Weeding out books is also a limited option. Sometimes, weeding out books means sending them to the off-site collection, but when space is an issue, books are discarded. If the books are in good condition, they will be sold to Better World Books, and the revenue generated by the sale will be returned to fund the purchase of other collections. When books aren’t in good condition, they are recycled.

Collins, currently a senior librarian at Carnegie Mellon, wrote in an email to The Tartan about the process of weeding out books: “It probably should be an ongoing process, but often, due to other pressing responsibilities, it waits until space becomes a bit of an issue and then we usually have a weeding project. Many of us do some small amounts of weeding throughout the year (if we notice superseded editions on the shelf, books in bad condition, etc.). Recycled books are usually those with little or no circulation and in poor condition (missing or torn pages, ripped covers, etc.). Books sent to Better World Books are those with little or no circulation that no longer match with our research and teaching needs, or, for whatever reason, no one wanted to read.” Currently, there is no option for the library to gift or sell the books to students or employees of the university.

With space running low in the off-site collection, the library will have to decide how to move forward in the next few years. They’ll have to decide which collections are most valuable to the research interests of the university, which collections can be sold off, and which collections can be recycled.