Demand among students and faculty for collaborative learning spaces, media resources, and easier access to academic support services is driving leaders to rethink how to optimize library facilities.
As the value of large print collections continues to decline, the case for reducing space allocations for material storage and increasing allocations for higher-demand activities is growing stronger.
Balancing two conflicting interests
At many institutions, less than half of the library’s collection has ever circulated. Despite the steadily declining usage of print collections, they continue to occupy extensive space on campus. Books housed in on-campus open stacks are five times as expensive to store as those kept in off-site, high-density storage. As library budgets tighten, more and more libraries will consider reallocating or moving print materials off campus.
The Price of ‘Just-in-Case’ Collections
Attachment to Open Stacks Comes with Significant Costs
Unfortunately, the deaccession or deselection (or “weeding”) of central library holdings comes with real challenges. First, some faculty believe that browsing open stacks constitutes a central and irreplaceable form of scholarly research and therefore oppose efforts to relocate or condense print collections. Particularly for faculty in the humanities and social sciences—for whom monographs play a larger role in research and scholarship—the removal of library holdings may be viewed as akin to the removal of a scientist’s laboratory.
Second, deselection is practically and politically difficult when poorly planned. Resistance is greatest when materials are withdrawn as a result of a single, broad-reaching administrative initiative. Several attempts by universities to relocate print collections have resulted in public protest and, in some cases, a complete reversal of policy.
Three tactics for principled collection management and space reallocation
Both these challenges make it difficult for institutions to broadly or quickly reassign underutilized library space for new uses or acquisitions. However, with the growing availability of content in electronic formats, a handful of institutions have successfully reduced their open stack holdings and redeployed space on higher-demand uses using three targeted tactics:
1. Data-Driven Deselection
To mitigate relocation opposition, leaders should systematize deselection by implementing regular deaccession “audits.” Leaders ask faculty to appeal individual items on withdrawal lists, rather than encouraging them to nominate or approve candidates for withdrawal.
2. Collaborative Collections Management
To make more effective use of limited physical resources, many libraries have partnered with other libraries organize shared storage facilities and eliminate duplicate copies. These facilities ensure access to and preservation of materials, and remove excess holdings from collections.
3. Collaborative Learning Space
To better accommodate the modern needs of users, libraries are tailoring their design and facility strategy around the “learning commons” concept, catering to student comfort, collaboration, and connectivity.
Learn more about the future of libraries
No library is immune from the changes surrounding information and technology that have occurred over the past few decades. Read our full study to discover the four key drivers of change that are converging and pushing more academic libraries toward a fundamentally different approach. Download the full study