Social sciences shelved in Hamden

HAMDEN — At the Yale Library Storage Facility (LSF) in Hamden, books are not judged by their covers.

Instead, they are judged in terms of space.Yale’s libraries have a fixed amount of space, so books are moved from campus libraries to LSF to make room for the 250,000 new items Yale purchases every year. The work of processing books — and cataloguing them by size — is ongoing, said LSF Director Michael DiMassa, and only growing: This year, LSF has more volumes coming in than ever before. To make way for the construction of the new colleges, the entire collection of the Seeley G. Mudd Library, a social sciences library and LSF’s on-campus precursor, is relocating to the Hamden warehouse to join the 3.8 million volumes already processed and stored there.

Library employees have been gradually moving items from the Mudd collection to LSF since December 2008. Though the move will take several years, library officials said Mudd employees and transportation contractors will pick up the pace in transporting books to LSF starting now. From there, DiMassa’s highly organized team of 11 employees will be ready to take over and integrate the books into their system.

SOCIAL SPACES

Though LSF is only three miles from Yale’s campus, its approach is singular among University libraries.

The facility operates as a closed system and rarely welcomes visitors. DiMassa does not play the role of a traditional librarian; his focus is on improving efficiency. Last week LSF employees processed 25,144 items, breaking their previous processing record. They keep the latest daily, weekly and monthly processing figures on a whiteboard in the “processing room.”

“No one ever comes in here if they’re not [shelving],” DiMassa said, referring to his employees’ primary activity.

With a predicted growth rate of 250,000 books per year, the Yale Library Storage Facility may reach full capacity by 2022.
Juliana Hanle
With a predicted growth rate of 250,000 books per year, the Yale Library Storage Facility may reach full capacity by 2022.
Juliana Hanle

But while Mudd Library’s collections move to LSF, where public browsing is strictly prohibited, the social sciences librarians are searching for a way to make this material more accessible — and to make browsing more of a social experience.

Jill Parchuck, director of the social science libraries and manager of the Mudd collection’s move to LSF, said she is exploring interactive options for social sciences research in a new “information commons.”

Parchuck said that the commons, an “interactive learning center,” will allow patrons to interact with subject specialists, librarians and peers in a physical meeting place equipped with computers. At the commons, students and researchers will have access to digital information for use in their statistics work, Parchuck said.

While DiMassa acknowledges that print is losing ground to digital media, he said more books are still being published on paper than people realize. LSF is “going to be involved, probably, in digitization,” DiMassa said, but he does not think that the growing popularity of digital media will cut into LSF’s work.

“You always want to keep the primary artifact,” he said.

INSIDE THE LAB

LSF is designed with cleanliness and organization in mind. The stations in the processing room progress sequentially from the loading bay, where trucks gather materials to carry between the campus and the warehouse to the storage room. Hidden behind a thick stainless steel door, shelves in the storage room stretch from the floor to the ceiling 30 feet above. DiMassa said that when the facility hosts an annual tour for librarians, the visitors usually gasp upon entry.

“I’ve had more than one person tell me it reminds them of the last scene from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’” DiMassa said.

The facility’s massive collection includes artifacts from Charles Lindbergh, Grammy awards statues, and testimonial videos from Holocaust survivors. Just last year, DiMassa said, LSF agreed to store reels from the Film Study Center.

Still, both Burcheski and DiMassa said they think of the items they work with as “widgets” — a generic term used to refer to any very common item — and they encourage their employees to do the same.

At LSF, books are segregated by size, not subject or author — a system which DiMassa said “blows a lot of librarians’ minds.” When a volume enters the facility, a staff member dusts it in three strokes, another employee sizes it on a template, and then the item is scanned into the system twice by barcode. LSF can only identify items by barcode; titles are not stored in the facility’s computer system, DiMassa said.

Materials must be shelved via forklifts called order pickers. At no point during the shelving process may an employee browse the volumes.

“We don’t allow staff to take a book into the break room,” Burcheski said.

George Cafasso, a materials assistant who Burcheski said has worked at LSF for eight years, said there are security cameras everywhere within the facility.

“You see a picture on the cover but you can’t stop,” Cafasso said. “I do what they tell me.”

The strict system works: DiMassa prides himself on the fact that the facility’s staff has never lost an item. LSF Manager Gary Burcheski said he heard Harvard’s off-site facility, the Harvard Depository, had lost a few volumes — but Harvard’s collection is larger than Yale’s.

Yale constructed LSF in 1998 to store under-circulated volumes the overstocked campus libraries. The University has added storage modules to the building ever since and DiMassa said the facility is now at its maximum size. By his estimate, the building will reach full capacity around 2022.

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