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Library Storage and Collection Development

July 21, 2021

Offsite library storage is often used for low-use materials (Hazen 2000, Powell in Nitecki & Kendrick 2001, vanDuinkerken and Romano 2016). At my institution, however, this is becoming less and less true.  

Here at Pitt, we’re in the midst of another big moving project. We’ve been undergoing a phased renovation in our main library for the past few years, and with each new floor we tackle, more books are being added to our offsite collection, ULS-Thomas Blvd. All these new accessions have had me thinking about the literature I’ve read surrounding selection for offsite library storage.  

Such literature suggests several strategies ranging from utilizing a combination of thoughtful liaison analysis and faculty input to system-generated lists informed by circulation statistics and publication date (Tabacaru & Pickette 2013, Carpenter in Nitecki & Kendrick 2001, Deardorff & Aamot 2006). With our library system undergoing such a large project and with such tight turnaround times (not to mention pandemic-imposed staffing levels), we are driven to approach selection of materials for storage not from a collection development angle, but from how much shelf space we’ll have in the main library when the renovation is over. We don’t have time to allow each liaison to handpick the titles to go offsite, and they don’t have the time to do it, either. When planning what to send offsite, our move committee experiments with a Tableau workbook to determine which set of criteria will get us to 85% of the available space. Then we can pull and ship them off! 

While low-use materials will absolutely get caught up in these criteria, it also means we also have surprising titles from Octavia Butler, Madeline Miller, and Joy Harjo sitting in trays alongside less used titles like The Barbed Wire Identification Handbook. In fact, our top three most requested titles library-system-wide (from the past three years) are held in our offsite collection. Additionally, even if a book is considered low-use now, any book has the potential to become high-use when an instructor assigns it for class, or it’s a work of fiction recently adapted to a movie or TV show. In cases like these, one could make a case for the restoration of such items back to the open shelves, but I doubt many librarians feel up to the task of constantly transferring books to and fro based on their usage. This reality underscores the fact that even high-use items have a place in storage because ultimately, storage is not a death sentence. When the usage level is no longer the sole driving factor of what goes offsite, and to a broader extent, when most of the collection is offsite, it challenges the perception of library storage as anything other than an extension of the open stacks on-site.  

Four books: two are popular reading titles, two are more obscure scholarly titles.

All of these books belong in our offsite collection!

There is still a place for collection development, though. We can make these macro-scale decisions about criteria as the moving project requires, but I think there is room for liaisons to request the occasional exception. For example, if a series of reference texts truly serves no purpose to a patron when it is stored offsite, it might be a good candidate for staying behind on the open shelves. This should come up in planning meetings before the pull list has been generated. These broad strokes transfer decisions and the flexibility they afford us is why Pitt has no set offsite policy beyond “no duplicates” (and even then, exceptions can be made). 

Just as onsite academic libraries are changing to serve the needs of the student population, so are offsite storage libraries. Once seen as a solution to the so-called space crisis (massive collection growth in the mid-20th century making collections too large for their buildings to hold them), they are now, I predict, well on their way to being the main provider for all research materials. 


Works Cited

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

Hazen, D. C. (2000). Selecting for storage: Local problems, local responses, and an emerging common challenge. Library Resources & Technical Services, 44(4), 176–183. 

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

Tabacaru, S., & Pickette, C. (2013). Damned if you do, damned if you don’t: Texas A&M University Libraries’ collection assessment for off-site storage. Collection Building, 32(3), 111–115. 

vanDuinkerken, W., & Romano, J. (2016). Embracing the future while storing the past: The Joint Library Facility story. Library Review, 65(6/7), 420–428. 

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