FORT MYERS — The days of college libraries featuring row upon row of dusty, tattered books are history.
University libraries, including Florida Gulf Coast University, have been trading shelf space for study space, digitizing materials to free up square footage for other purposes.
Another space-saving measure is on the horizon. Florida's public universities have designed a $26 million high-density storage facility, which would house 5.2 million volumes that aren't used on a regular basis. All books and reference materials will be stored at 50 degrees with 35 percent relative humidity, ideal conditions for preserving materials. The facility will be in Gainesville.
FGCU has the newest library in the state university system, so its shelves aren't loaded with dusty novels from the 19th century. However, there are materials and special collections that students and faculty rarely, if ever, retrieve from the shelves. FGCU's library features 22 study rooms, a writing center, computer lab, Starbucks, tutoring lab, offices — and books.
"We have 250,000 physical items on shelves in this building, so we do still have a lot of stuff," said university librarian Kathleen Miller.
Library staff will be monitoring material usage to see how often patrons check out certain items. Those that rarely leave the shelves will be boxed up and shipped to Gainesville, where items will be cataloged and possibly digitized before they are placed in the warehouse.
The Dewey Decimal System of grouping books won't be used in the warehouse. Instead, book height will determine where an item is stored, maximizing the number of volumes that will fit under a 35-foot ceiling. A computerized retrieval device similar to those in vending machines will remove items upon request. "Every book has a bar code, every tray has a bar code, every shelf has a bar code," said Judith Russell, dean of libraries for the University of Florida. "It's an efficient way to store low-use materials but still be able to retrieve them if necessary."
Although the Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, approved the warehouse concept, legislators still must approve the bulk of funding. Russell hopes that happens this spring.
The university system, like local public libraries, has agreements that allow patrons to check out books on loan from other campuses. It's usually a two-day turnaround to ship items between the colleges, Russell said. Items that have been scanned and digitized can be transferred electronically.
FGCU students and faculty won't see changes with high-use items, but the library is digitizing materials that aren't retrieved as often. The university also maintains digital subscriptions to dozens of newspapers, magazines and journals, and provides access to electronic references of all sorts. That's allowed the university to expand seating to turn the library into more of a study space than book place. Once universities start sending items to the warehouse, only one copy will make it on the shelves. Even though thousands of materials have been scanned and are accessible online, the university system must maintain a hard copy of published items to avoid copyright infringement claims.