Notes from Offsite Shelving Session

Facilitator: Susan Currie, Head, Access Services Division, Olin/Kroch/Uris

Libraries, Cornell University

Recorder: Kenneth Harlin, Head of Access & Technical Support, C.V. Starr

East Asian Library, Columbia University

Discussion Topics:

  • Demand for new services
  • Demand for higher quality in operations
  • Impact of offsite on space and staffing configurations.

It was noted at the start that several of the libraries represented do not yet have offsite shelving facilities or are just in the planning stages for them. Three main points about offsite were immediately raised and led to most of the discussion that followed:

  • Low use does not mean no use.
  • Recon makes collections more visible.
  • The necessity of providing new services at offsite impacts traditional services currently being offered.

It was noted that offsite facilities were usually newly constructed buildings that offered adequate shelf space and state of the art climate control, conditions often lacking in the regular stacks where the bulk of the circulating collections are housed. The act of putting something in an offsite location makes it visible for the first time to a wide range of patrons as well. Material going to offsite has generally been reconned and appears online, whereas many items in the regular stacks are still only accessible through traditional card catalogs. Once materials are online, patrons often discover the material for the first time, and there are also more requests for material through interlibrary loan. Another effect of moving materials offsite is that each item is individually handled during processing so that when its location is listed as offsite, the chance of it actually being there is extremely high. Most research libraries do not have the staff or time to conduct inventories of their regular collections, but their offsite materials have a 100% hit rate.

In order to lessen the burden to patrons of housing materials offsite, new services are being offered from offsite locations such as document delivery to all campus libraries, scanning tables of contents of journals, and delivery to all campus libraries. This increases user expectations for the same services from traditional campus libraries, and can create additional work at many. For instance, foreign-language material such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in offsite locations will often need to be sent to the original library for photocopying and verification if staff at the offsite facility do not have the language expertise. It also became clear that offsite has different meanings for different institutions. Several libraries have offsite locations within walking distance of their main libraries, while Columbia and New York Public Libraries are building a shared offsite location with Princeton that is in another state. Generally a one business day turnaround for requested material was considered the standard. Some offsite locations are browsable while others are not, although all of the offsite locations appear to have reading room facilities where patrons can view retrieved materials on site.

Various criteria for selecting items for offsite were discussed. These included selection item by item, blocks of material (e.g. all monographs in the Dewey classification), and level of circulation. Often it depends on the amount of material going offsite. Several libraries place back issues of serials in offsite locations once they are bound. Faculty and student involvement was deemed crucial in discussions about what goes offsite.

One discernable effect of offsite planning, processing and operations was its implications across all areas of library work. An effective and efficient offsite operation requires communication and cooperation among access, reference, technical services, interlibrary loan, and preservation to make it work.