different kinds of stacks

23 February 2012

I’m taking a course in collection development/management and I’ve come to realize that I must be somewhat of an outlier as a library user. This is probably less true of the number of books I check out than of the variety of repository types I’ve used. Some libraries actually keep track of how many “heavy users” they have – this may be defined differently in different institutions, but a heavy user is probably someone who takes out more than 100 books in a year – and I’m reasonably certain that there are a fair number of people whose circulation statistics match or exceed mine. People in the humanistic fields tend to take out a lot of books. I take out a lot now, but I took out even more when I was full-time in history.*

What I wonder, though, is how common is it to make use of more than the central collections? That is, how many people are reaching into the little-used areas, especially the “storage” collections: off-site facilities, mainly, but some universities, including this one, have on-campus high-density automated storage and retrieval systems (ASRS) that serve much the same function as an off-site storage facility. (Generally, you request a book  from an ASRS through the online catalog or at the circulation desk, and then a machine retrieves it, usually within 10 minutes.) Every university I’ve had experience with as a library user has had a significant amount of the collection in a storage site; this is really not unusual for modern academic libraries.

What I think might be unusual, however, is how much I’ve used these collections. In Berkeley, I made a lot of requests from NRLF (the Northern Regional Library Facility), despite the fact that it could take a day or two for books to come in. Similarly, at UCLA, I’ve done the same with SRLF. In fact, I’ve actually gone to the SRLF building in person because it’s on the UCLA campus and if you actually come to the site, they will process your request in one day. (For complicated reasons, I couldn’t wait for the usual next-day delivery.) At Stanford, I made a lot of requests from their storage sites, and visited the on-campus “auxiliary library” at least once. And here at UBC, I’ve used the on-campus ASRS quite a bit. Even at the San Francisco Public Library, when I wasn’t really doing academic research but just using the library while I did an internship in SF, I found myself requesting materials from their “paging” desks, where staff retrieve books from non-public stacks within the building.

This has to be fairly unusual behavior among library users, to judge by my conversations with friends and colleagues. But how unusual is it? I should look into this.

*This is partly the result of my using pre-1923 ebooks nowadays, an option that wasn’t as widely available just five years ago. Although I did read Roderick Hudson entirely online in its serialized form in The Atlantic, available via the Making of America project back in 2007.