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As space for books disappears libraries return to 20th century consortium paradigm

Chronicle of Higher Education - Short on Space, Libraries Look to One Another for Solutionsby Jennifer Howard

“Christopher B. Loring, the director of the libraries at Smith College, has a problem with his Strategic Air Command bunker—it’s almost full. The bunker, long since retired from military service, now operates as a high-density book-storage facility for Smith and the rest of the Five College Consortium (Amherst, Hampshire, and Mount Holyoke Colleges and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst). It can hold about 570,000 volumes and now contains about 540,000. In about five years Smith will run out of places to house all its books, according to Mr. Loring. And there are always more books. The college spends about 65 percent of its $3.5-million acquisitions budget on electronic content, but it still buys many print volumes. “There’s been a slow march toward more electronic content. But there are certain types of materials—art books are good examples—where you’ll be buying print,” Mr. Loring says. He and his staff have to find somewhere to put new acquisitions as well as less-used collections of older books. The year “2018 is when we really hit the wall almost everywhere in our facilities,” he says. Talk of digital revolutions and bookless libraries notwithstanding, academic libraries around the country are feeling the squeeze as legacy collections outgrow shelves, and shelves give way to learning commons and shared study areas. Those twin pressure points—too many print books plus new demands on library real estate—have spurred academic libraries to try a set of state and regional experiments to free up library space to suit modern learning styles and still make sure that somebody, somewhere, hangs onto books that make up part of the intellectual record, even if those books haven’t circulated in years. For such experiments to succeed, librarians say, they should build off existing relationships among libraries, and they should draw on solid data—on persuasive and detailed analyses of what’s in a collection and how it’s used and whether those books are available somewhere else. The streamlining of collections has to be handled in a way that doesn’t enrage faculty members who still cherish access to physical books. Many disciplines, especially the sciences, favor electronic resources, but print still holds powerful appeal for a lot of scholars.”

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