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Innovative Solution Ends Library's Storage Dilemma

By 1987, the rapid growth of   ' Canada's second largest library collection had left the University of Alberta Library's facilitiers full to overflowing.

Although a new library had been the top capital budget priority for years, the $70 million needed to build was simply unavailable. The challenge was to find a more efficient and cost-effective way to store infrequently circulated materials and make room for future acquisitions.

In the early 1990s, the Library proposed that little used books and journals and the University archives be moved to a high-density storage facility in a'low-rent" zone. The result of this proposal was the development of the Book and Record Depository which rapidly became known as BARD. Opened February of this year, BARD has effectively solved the University's space problem for the next 20 to 30 years — and all for under $3 million.

At first, the plan to house library materials off-campus raised concern that the materials would no longer be accessible. Located in the former IKEA warehouse at 50 Street near the Sherwood Park Freeway, BARD is seven kilometres from the main campus, half that distance from the Faculte saint-Jean facilities. However, users have been guaranteed delivery of book requests within 24-hours. If an individual journal article is all that is needed, this can quickly be sent by facsimile transmission. To accommodate those requiring faster service, BARD is open weekdays during regular office hours, has ample free parking, a 25-person reading room, photocopiers, and is on a city bus route.

At capacity, BARD will house 3.2 million books and more than eight kilometres of archival files. And that space is more than welcome, because without it, the only way the University could have managed its overcrowded libraries would have been to completely stop buying new materials or begin discarding old volumes — at a rate of about a million over the next decade.

"If we hadn't been able to find a solution, such as BARD, we would not have been able to continue to collect, because we had no place to put anything," says Ernie Ingles, the University's chief librarian, who notes that discarding material wasn't an attractive option either. The older volumes, some of which contain precious and often irreplaceable material, are as important as new materials in the University's research and teaching, and therefore needed to be preserved "for generations down the road," he says.

This philosophy of preservation is reflected in BARD's 38.8 kilometres of climate-controlled shelving. Because paper is affected by fluctuations in temperature and moisture, the depository is computer monitored 24-hours a day to keep books and archives at 18Ý Celsius and at a relative humidity of 40 per cent. To protect the materials from damaging particles, cles, chemicals, and other external ternal contaminants, the air entering the facility is double filtered and pressurized as vell. This "passive preservation" of paper materials greatly increases their life-expectancy.

BARD is equipped with "low-UV" light fixtures and lamps covered with filters to eliminate ultraviolet light, while windows in the work rooms are covered with UVfiltering film. The paint and other building materials , as well as storage boxes, are certified "acid-free" (minimum pH 7.5) to further limit the aging of BARD's inventory.  

For security against damage from fire or flood, BARD is equipped with highly-sensitive heat and moisture sensors, smoke alarms and a dry-pipe sprinkler system. To protect against theft, there are intrusion alarms.

To maximize storage density, books are sorted into five categories by size and are barcoded for scanner identification. Users may then access the materials that they need through the University's new on-line catalogue, the GATE, which indicates that the book or journal is located in the depository. This information is all I, that is required to access the resources now stored in BARD, users being able to request these materials on campus or in person.

BARD was modelled on the Harvard Archives Depository, but its innovators have adapted it to satisfy the University's needs, both in efficiency and cost. For example, Harvard uses an expensive fully robotized system, which only allows retrieval of materials to be as specific as a full box. At BARD, individual requests are retrieved manually, saving both money and time. An electric stock-picker is on hand to provide access to the highest levels of shelving.

The University of Alberta's cost-effective solution to its collection storage dilemma has already earned BARD recognition. This year, the Canadian Association of College and University libraries awarded BARD its Innovative Achievement Award BARD has also been favored with an honorable mention from the Canadian Association of University Business Officers.

It's easy to see why BARD has received this attention, given the alternatives that the Library faced. To optically scan the entire collection would have cost $262.5 million, with no guarantee that the electronic information would not be lost. In contrast, BARI) cost only $2.9 million to implement. Of this, $1.35 million went to renovating the warehouse — half of what a new building would have cost.

Operating costs are also reasonable, points out Vaughn Munro, supervisor of the facility. At BARD, Munro requires only five people to handle inbound processing and circulation retrieval. Two full-time archivists and a small group of students during the summer round out the staff. It is projected that when BARD is operating at capacity the combined cost of storage, staffing, rent, and maintenance of BARD will translate into less than 10 cents per volume.

By mid-May, three months after BARD went into service, Merrill Distad, the Library's head of collections, was pleased to report that everything was fully up and running. The collection at BARD had reached about 300,000 volumes, and virtually all of the University's archives had been moved there. According to Distad, an exciting aspect of the depository's tremendous storage capacity is the opportunity other libraries will have to share its space. Currently, the Council of Prairies and Pacific University Libraries is negotiating with the University of Alberta to arrange for the Council's member libraries to relocate some of their less-used material into BARD. If realized, this agreement would not only help the University recover some of its costs but would also facilitate greater sharing of regional resources, benefiting BARD's users at the University as well as those on INTERNET or ARIEL.

Back on the main campus, the University libraries are in transition. The movement of low-circulation materials into the storage facility has made room both for new acquisitions and 700 study spaces that had been lost. Stacks of books had buried, for example, two-thirds of the elegant Periodical Reading Room at Rutherford South. Distad hopes that further University consolidations now being negotiated will make libraries even more efficient and library users will have promised extra work space by next year.

By moving old but vital research materials to the new Book and Record Depository, the University of Alberta has given its libraries the room needed for collection expansion while ensuring that its resources will be both wellpreserved and readily accessible. In the words of U of A President Paul Davenport, BARD has been a "$3 million dollar solution to a $70 million problem."  

Published Summer 1994.

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