Libraries by their vary nature consume space. Our book budget translates into the need for shelf-space to house each book.Shelving problems can arise quickly. For instance, one of our Ph.D. students approaches the end of the writing process for the dissertation. When the text has been submitted and the dissertation defended, the books, many of which have been charged out for several years, are returned. It is not uncommon for a dissertation writer to have forty to fifty books in a closely defined area of the collection. When they are all returned, a shelving crisis arises. Virtually nowhere in the Divinity Library circulating collection is there room to re-insert one and a half shelves of books at one time. Even with remote storage in the Annex, the stacks are completely full. Library literature says a shelf is full when seventy percent of the shelf space is used. We have essentially no shelves with less than eighty percent used, and many shelves are truly 100 percent full.
Ironically, at a time that many thought electronic publishing would make print obsolete, we are faced with ongoing and increasing difficulty in housing our print collection. Stack space has been in short supply for twenty-five years in the Divinity Library. Some relief was found in the mid-1980s when the Heard Library established its off-site storage facility (known as the Annex). The Divinity Library immediately became a customer, moving significant numbers of bound periodicals and low-use monographs to storage. Faculty and student patrons were understanding of the necessity and tolerated the inconvenience well, as the rapid and reliable retrieval of books from the Annex was accepted as the norm.
Selection of materials suitable for off-site storage is a time-intensive intellectual task. Initially, the "easy" titles were moved and several years of growth space was created in periodicals. Monographic titles were much harder to identify, as research in theology and religion regularly relies on extensive use of older publications. We see significant in-house use of circulating volumes for quick consultation, and so low circulation statistics do not definitively indicate a title is not used. Staffing shortages over several years have meant that the labor-intensive selecting of titles to move to the Annex has not been possible. Emergency shifts, as stack shelving crises arise, have been done, but the problem continues to grow. The stacks were essentially full by most library standards twenty years ago, and to fully keep up with the problem we would need to shift to the Annex each year at least the number of new volumes we acquire.
Planning for a New Divinity Library
Planning began in the summer of 2001 for a new wing of the Divinity School, designed to house a new, larger Divinity Library. Moving the Divinity Library out of our historic home in the General Library Building (we were an original tenant, moving in when the building opened in 1941) would have benefits both for Divinity as well as the other collections in the building. The Central Library and Special Collections both experience space shortages similar to those in Divinity.
The new wing of the Divinity School is planned to address several needs, as space shortages are pressing for the School as well as the library. The proposed library area, occupying a large percentage of the new wing, is designed to accommodate the entire Divinity Library collection, and allow for growth over a fifteen to twenty year period to house a collection approaching 200,000 volumes.
The new library is also designed to provide ample and varied study spaces for our patrons. Group study areas are completely lacking in the current facilities, as are adequate graduate study carrels. As previous renovations of libraries on campus have shown, when facilities are inviting and provide appropriate user spaces, use increases dramatically. For professional and graduate research, particularly with a student population consisting primarily of commuters rather than campus residents, library study space is crucial. The new library is designed to provide a mixture of casual seating, spaces for conversation, and collaborative studying, as well as quiet research areas. The Divinity Library already serves as a hub for student life, as the faculty and curriculum place heavy reliance on library resources and research. By moving the library into the same building with the faculty and classrooms, we expect it to reinforce and stimulate a creative learning environment for the Divinity students and faculty.
As always, financial considerations are important factors in building plans. Initial design and program specifications produced a space costing more than the School can expect to raise. Revisions of the plans have proposed smaller and more affordable alternatives. Painful as it is to move from the wish list to a more constrained space, that exercise presses us to think more creatively about the space. The initial design produced a fairly traditional structure for the collection and little change from the way it is currently organized. As we consider compromises and ways to reduce the space, questions of how the collection is organized re-emerge. Is it necessary to have the bound periodicals on the main level? How do we structure the reference collection and how many volumes does it need to contain? If we cannot house the entire collection on site, how do we define what stays on campus and what is removed to the Annex? If we choose to house the collection in compact shelving, does that allow us to house most of the collection locally?
Physical space influences the way patrons perceive the collection and also affects the way in which the library staff develops and provides services to support patrons. Whatever plan is eventually approved and funded, this will be a creative opportunity to design new space and to develop new library facilities that will meet research and teaching needs for the students and faculty of the Divinity School and the University.
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