Before the holidays Ricky Erway, Constance Malpas, Dennis Massie, and Roy Tennant visited the Northern Regional Library Facility (NLRF), which serves as the storage facility for five northern University of California campuses. Besides learning about the storage facility operations, which are interesting in their own right, we also saw the scanning operation of the Open Content Alliance.
First some numbers. Over 5 million items are stored here, in a few warehouse-style buildings next to the 580 freeway. Materials are sorted by size and shelved in order of receipt, two-deep to maximize space. The nimble hands at the NRLF process a quarter million volumes each year, most of them titles transferred from the UC Berkeley campus. Approximately 2,000 requests for material housed at the NRLF are filled per week, including both on-site use and remote lending. Most remote usage requests come from patrons at one of the UC libraries, with materials delivered to the requesting library within a day or two.
Interlibrary loan requests that originate from outside the UC system are funneled through the owning UC library, which then requests the materials from the NRLF, as there is nothing in the WorldCat record for a stored item to indicate that it is in the NRLF and not at a northern UC campus. Requested materials are then sent from the storage facility to the depositing lending UC library for processing and forwarding on to the non-UC borrowing library. NRLF staff mentioned that if an OCLC lender could refer incoming requests to another lending symbol, it would allow them to ship ILL materials directly from NRLF (which has its own OCLC symbol) to the non-UC borrowing library. Approximately 25% of the stored materials are special collections, mostly manuscripts and archives, placed on special shelving units that can accommodate archival boxes. Usage of the entire stored collection has leveled off in recent years, though some topical collections (history of science titles, for example) continue to see a relatively high retrieval rate.
NRLF staff say it is too early to tell whether mass digitization projects such as the Open Content Alliance will lead to increased use of what has long been considered low-use materials. (At recent conferences, staff from the University of Michigan and from Duke University have cited anecdotal evidence of increased print circulation of digitized titles.) Selecting, pulling and delivering the materials to be scanned is a monstrously laborious task that requires stamina, perseverance, and precise record keeping. We were all impressed to see how well the NRLF staff have adapted to the new logistical requirements of mass digitization efforts, which demand that large volumes of materials be moved (and tracked) efficiently from point to point — mobilizing collections and staff in ways that are new to traditional library storage operations. As Lizanne Payne noted in her recent OCLC white paper, most such facilities are optimized for efficient storage, rather than efficient retrieval. The changing demands on off-site library collections produced by mass digitization efforts and direct-to-storage acquisitions are creating a host of interesting new challenges for facility managers.
Each week, more than a thousand volumes are ‘shipped’ from the NRLF shelves to an adjacent OCA conversion center. The OCA scanning operation has been set up in a small room in one of the buildings that is just large enough to hold ten “Scribe” scanning stations and a check in/out area. Each station can do 4-500 pages per hour, and given two shifts at about 7 scanning hours per shift, about 7,000 pages per day per scribe or 70,000 pages per day for the entire facility. If the average book is 350 pages, this equates to roughly 1,000 books per week. This equates to just over 50,000 books a year at this facility. Another way to look at it is if OCA set out to scan all of the materials at this facility (it hasn’t), it would take about 100 years to accomplish it at the present rate of scanning.
However, each book scanned is another that becomes available on the web for anyone to see and use, and that is no small thing. While we were interested in the Google operation, staff were not at liberty to show or tell. – Dennis, Ricky, Roy and Constance
Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.