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On Naming Library Storage

March 30, 2021
photo by Charlotte M. Johnson

Offsite shelving has a naming issue. I refer, of course, to library collections housed in warehouses that are sometimes far away from campus, but sometimes not; that are sometimes inhabited by the high-density “Harvard model” of shelving by size than by call number, but sometimes not. That I call it “offsite shelving” is a deliberate choice, but I could call it any number of things: offsite (off-site) storage, remote storage, remote shelving, high-density storage, high-density shelving, library storage. It makes me wonder when performing lit reviews whether there’s a term I’ve forgotten to search in Google Scholar. I’m not even beginning to touch ASRS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems) or depository/repository models (See Peasley 2012, Sundstrand 2011, and O’Connor and Jilovsky 2009).

Librarians have differing opinions on the subject. Michael T. Peper and Danuta A. Nitecki & Curtis L. Kendrick make this exact observation in their work. Peper’s 2008 dissertation uses these terms interchangeably, and “does not intend any negative association with any of these terms” and Nitecki and Kendrick in their book, Library off-site shelving: guide for high-density facilities (2001), actively make no attempt to edit contributors’ terminology into something uniform. Priddle and McCann (2015) also brought the issue up after their survey of special collections stored offsite included the entire gambit of terms.

Throughout the literature, libraries opening up an offsite shelving facility have had to handle the optics of moving large amounts of the collection offsite. No longer immediately visible and browsable, books appear as though they’ve been removed altogether, instead of still being readily available–or as Lucker puts it more succinctly, offsite storage is “library code for weeding” (2012). Kruger, very tongue-in-cheek writes, “Some OPAC location names might subtly discourage use, so designations that might sound to users like ‘Backwoods Storage Facility,’ “The Vault,” or “Under the Cricket Court” are to be avoided” (2003), and Lougee suggests that “remote shelving” is more accessible than “storage” (1992).

My view for the past few years has been that offsite shelving facilities are active extensions of the main library’s collection and should be referred to in such a way that acknowledges this. Referring to our offsite shelving as “storage” may suggest to some that we are hiding these books away in an attic, not taking care of them, and effectively removing them from everyday use. When it comes to communicating with patrons, I think it’s the collection that should be prioritized, not the building it’s housed in. It is important, however, to acknowledge that this speculation based on the literature I’ve read, which may in itself be speculation or anecdotal. As far as I’m aware, there has been no proper research into these negative patron perceptions.

But, I suspect very few patrons can be bothered about what library practitioners call the facilities as a whole. Instead the question arises: “What do we name it? What do patrons know it as?” The most recent offsite-related SPEC Kit from ARL back in 2006 finds that the words “annex” and “storage” are most often used in naming a facility (Deardorff & Aamot), but overall there didn’t seem to be any trends at the time of naming. In 2020, I took the names of all the library storage facilities named on and looked at the updated frequency of words.

*As in “Library Service Center” and not “[Geographic Name] Library”
**As in “[Geographic Name] Library” and not “Library Service Center”

Here, we see a number of facilities being referred to as Facilities, Annexes, and Storage. “Library Annex” (or Libraries Annex) is the most frequently seen name, showing up 16 times out of the 95 facilities I looked at. “Library Service Center” and “Library Storage Facility” are the second most frequent, at four facilities each. Further research could be done into why libraries chose the names that they did for their offsite facilities, and what patron perceptions of those names are.

When the University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System (ULS) migrated from Voyager to Alma, we took it as an opportunity to rename our offsite shelving facility from “ULS-Storage” to something more user friendly. I wrote up a shorter version of this post and a handful of suggestions. Library management opened up a poll to all colleagues at the ULS and we ended up being dubbed “ULS-Thomas Blvd” due to our location in Pitt-owned building on Thomas Blvd. Its strength as a name, in my opinion, lies in its simplicity, its acknowledgement as part of the ULS’s collections, and its lack of reference to storage or warehouses.

The downside to this kind of name is that now patrons may think that this is a location that they can visit, and indeed I have received those calls. This leads me to the conclusion that familiarity with the facilities themselves and the purposes they serve will lead to the least amount of patron confusion or negative perceptions.

So for now, we still use the facility terms interchangeably and name them as we will. Despite attempts to correct it, information sharing avenues among storage facilities is not as robust as other areas, so I don’t see us coming to a professional consensus any time soon. Yet, I think it’s something worth pursuing and hope this post provides a good starting point.

Works Cited:

Deardorff, T. C., & Aamot, G., J. (2006). Remote Shelving Services. Washington, DC : Association of Research Libraries.

Kruger, B. (2003). Beyond the Blueprints: Enhancing Access to Materials in Remote Storage. Journal of Access Services, 1(3), 45–55.

Lougee, W. P. (1992). Remote Storage Comes of Age: Storage Collection Management at the University of Michigan. Collection Management, 16(2), 93–107.

Lucker, A. (2012). Deal with the Devil: A Participatory Model for Off-Site Storage Selection. Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America, 31(2), 285–292.

Nitecki, D. A., & Kendrick, C. L. (2001). Library off-site shelving: Guide for high-density facilities. Libraries Unlimited.

Peper, M. T. (2008). The Effect of Remote Storage on the Use of Books [Master’s Thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill].

Priddle, C., & McCann, L. (2015). Off-Site Storage and Special Collections: A Study in Use and Impact in ARL Libraries in the United States. College & Research Libraries, 76(5), 652–670.

See also:

O’Connor, S., & Jilovsky, C. (2009). Approaches to the storage of low use and last copy research materials. Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services, 32(3–4), 121–126.

Peasley, J. (2012). Demystifying automated retrieval systems: The clients’ perspective. VALA2012 Proceedings: 16th Biennial Conference : EmPowering EFutures, 1–9.

Sundstrand, J. K. (2011). Getting to MARS: Working with an Automated Retrieval System in the Special Collections Department at the University of Nevada, Reno. Journal of Archival Organization, 9(2), 105–117.

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