Library book migration makes way for makeover

With more than 800,000 volumes now housed off-site, a new west entrance will open in June.

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by Rick Waters '95
Updated: Wednesday, May 21, 2014

James Lutz, director of library administrative services, is overseeing the migration of 800,000 volumes to an off-site facility. (Photography by Glen E. Ellman)

While a new west entrance is still months away for TCU’s Mary Couts Burnett Library, its big book migration is approaching the half-way mark.

To make room for a complete facility overhaul, the library began in late December packing and transporting about 200,000 monographs and bound journals to an off-site storage facility called the TCU Library Annex less than 2 miles south of campus. The process will be complete by April, says James Lutz, director of library administrative services, who is overseeing the move.

“We broke the move into two parts,” Lutz said. “The first happened just after final exams in December, when we moved about 50,000 items, primarily to prepare for construction work to the library’s west façade that faces University Drive. That side of the building will become our new entrance in May.

“The second part, which involves the bulk of our materials, is happening from the end of January to the end of March. By the time we’re done, we will have moved 800,000 of our 1.2 million items.”

Lined up cover to cover, the books stretch about 63,000 linear feet or almost 12 miles, Lutz said.

PhotoThe book migration and renovation are part of a massive makeover for the library to increase the amount of student seating space and offer services and amenities for the 21st century patron. When finished in August 2015, the reimagined library (and the adjoining Rees-Jones Hall) will be the cornerstone of the university’s Intellectual Commons in east campus, a component of TCU’s Academy of Tomorrow initiative.

“The library is not going to be bigger. It’s not going to be smaller. But it’s going to look completely different inside and out,” said Chancellor Victor J. Boschini, Jr. “It will have fewer stacks of books, more interactive study spaces. Less quiet, more noisy. It’ll have food. It’ll be a place people go 24/7. We’re going to make our library into the library of the 21st century by invigorating it and reissuing the call to everyone on campus that the library is the heart of academic learning at Texas Christian University.”

These changes are also a result of logistical challenges, said June Koelker, library dean.

“The library is out of space for book stacks,” said Koelker, who noted that more than 97,000 of 178,000 square feet will be affected by the renovation. “There are times when students cannot find a place to sit in the building. We have an inadequate number of seats for a campus the size of TCU.”

 While it has expanded its holdings over the years to match the size of the student body, the library has kept as much of its collection on-site as possible, even shoehorning stacks into corridors, Koelker said.

“We are now out of options,” she said. “Continuing with the current pattern of finding niches here and there is no longer possible.”

PhotoThe Annex facility will house titles acquired more than 5 years ago and books that have had no circulation in the last 10 years, Lutz said. All off-site material will be available through two new services:

  • scanning, in which a patron will receive a digital version of articles via email;
  • courier service, which will transport requested items to the main library twice a day Monday through Thursday and once on Friday and Sunday

While it will offer a reading room, quiet spaces and about 400,000 volumes, the new library will emphasize technology-rich amenities, such as 3-D printers, multimedia computers, recording and editing pods, real-time graphic displays and global seminar rooms with teleconference capabilities, Lutz said. Also in the works is a “technology sandbox,” in which faculty, staff and students can test new software and a “genius bar,” which will mimic the hands-on help desks at computer retailers.

It will also expand its on-site bistro and increase the number of group study spaces, he said.

“Our students see the facility as a work space, and our new library will be that for them,” said Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.

But in order to make room, the lesser-used materials must go.

Photo Off-site items will be contained in a high-density storage system called the Harvard Model, in which books are stored in open cardboard box trays based on size rather than subject matter or call number and placed on 16-foot shelves accessible by a lift.

“The object is to maximize space,” Lutz said. “Thanks to compact shelving and the store-by-size model, those 800,000 volumes will be stored in a space one-seventh to one-tenth the space they take up here.”

During the fall, a team of nearly 40 library staffers and student workers measured and tagged stacks of books. Based on its width and height, a book was marked with a colored dot on its spine. All similar-sized items with the same color dot were packed in trays together.

Books also received a label with a barcode on the front cover, which corresponds with barcodes on the box tray, the shelf section and shelf row. The three codes help a retriever triangulate the item quickly and pull the requested items with maximum efficiency.

The 33,000-square-foot Annex will carry about 51,000 trays and has room for as many as 2.3 million items, Lutz estimated.

“Essentially, we’ll have a geographic map of where any given item is,” Lutz said. “So when we get a request for a book, we’ll be able to find it quickly because we’ll know exactly which row it’s in, which section, on which shelf and in which tray.”

PhotoThis will be an upgrade over the current model, in which an incorrectly shelved book can sometimes take weeks, or even months to find, he said.

Another plus: In the Annex, the temperature will be a chilly 60 degrees, with 40 percent humidity, which will preserve books even longer than in the main facility.

To keep track of all the changes, the library launched a blog to answer questions, provide updates and illustrate the renovation timeline. Library staffers are in flux, too. Thirteen full-time employees in Acquisitions, Cataloging, Collection Development and Access Services are now working from temporary offices.

By the summer, the west-facing University Drive entrance will be open and the library’s east end, or 1980s addition, will close as renovation shifts to that side of the building. The Information Commons and computer labs will move to the west side.

“It’s a massive undertaking and there are inconveniences now,” Lutz admitted. “But I think everyone is going to think it’s worth it when it’s finished.”


Related links:
The TCU Magazine story on book sizing process
Mary Couts Burnett Library blog
TCU 360 coverage
WFAA-TV coverage

Photo gallery:
on the magazine's Facebook page

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