Stacks Services Planning Team Report


Alvan Bregman, Mary Burkee, Karen Hogenboom, Larry Miller, Chris Quinn, Diane Schmidt, Thomas Teper (Chair)



As charged by the Library's Executive Committee, the Stacks Services Working Group was asked to examine the Main Stacks in support of the recommendations of the report Library Services for the 21st Century at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: Final Report of the Budget Plus Group. This report recommended that the Library "Open and Improve User Services in the Main Stacks."   As part of its nine-point charge (see Appendix 1), the Stacks Services Working Group was asked to examine service improvements in the Stacks that could be implemented in the next three to five years and that would enhance the user environment, improve the management of our physical collections, and augment user spaces within the Stacks. This document contains the recommendations of the Stacks Services Working Group.

During the working group's meetings, we determined that there were three types of projects involved in the charge - staff/operational projects, collection management-related projects, and improvements to the user environment. As the Main Stacks were primarily designed and primarily serve the purpose of housing collections, we believe that prior to considering the three types of projects above, the Library must consider the nature of the physical collection being created and any recommendations about how it should be managed.


Nature of the Physical Collection

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of defining the service levels to be supported in the Main Stacks centers on examining the nature of the Stacks' physical collections. With the opening of the Oak Street Storage Facility, the University Library reached a turning point that many of its peer libraries passed years before. Yet, Illinois finds itself in good company in that many of its peer institutions have not taken a holistic view of collection management that incorporates the management of three distinct types of collections. In that regard, we believe that any discussion about the organization and management of collections must be considered across the University Library. To that end, library storage falls into four broad categories, three of which are present at UIUC:

  • Decentralized, Directly-Accessible - Characterized by open shelving such as that found in most unit libraries. Provides maximum patron accessibility (depending upon hours of operation of the particular library); consequently, it would be well suited for items where access is a premium such as reference materials. Requires a high cost in space (approx. 2.6 Linear Feet per Square Foot of Floor Space), a high maintenance cost, preservation liabilities, and inventory liabilities.
  • Centralized Directly-Accessible - Characterized by open shelving in the east stacks and compact shelving in the west stacks. Provides for acceptable patron access, and has a good shelf to space ration (reaching approx. 5.9 LF per SF). The cost of shelving is higher in the west stacks, where browsing is limited to one open aisle in each section of compact shelving. Direct patron access results in higher maintenance costs, preservation liabilities, and inventory liabilities. Ideally, this would be most well-suited for "secondary" volumes (i.e., non-reference-type materials), but given that our larger unit libraries function as primary shelving for general collections, Main Stacks does not include all general collections and cannot accommodate them all.
  • High-Density, Indirectly Accessible - Characterized as "the Harvard Model", this shelving achieves a high-density through two means - shelving by size and elevated storage (reaching 40' in height, the shelving density approaching 30+LF per SF). There are minimal shelving costs. This is off-set by poor direct access for patrons.
  • Ultra-High Density, Indirectly Accessible - Characterized by Automated Storage and Retrieval (ASR) systems currently being brought online at institutions such as the University of Chicago, such shelving results in lower retrieval costs and higher storage capacity but requires a substantially higher initial investment in equipment. Typically, items are shelved in call number order and delivered to patrons in trays, providing for a higher level of patron access. There is no equivalent shelving system at UIUC.

While individual subject specialists have looked at the relationship between the unit libraries they manage, the Stacks, and Oak St, the University Library has not taken the opportunity to examine the institution's operations prior to Oak Street's opening and reflect upon how the institution's collection management practices should change.

Managing the University Library's Physical Collections Prior to Oak St: Prior to Oak St's opening, the University Library's physical collections included the holdings of many unit libraries (including the Undergraduate Library) and the Stacks. The Main Stacks were, for most unit libraries, remote storage. While directly-accessible to patrons, they were necessarily limited in their utility by deficiencies in bibliographic access, overcrowding (exceeding 120% in some areas), and the absence of an environment that could be considered moderately appropriate for on-site use. Because there was no attempt at a consistent collection development or management policy for the Main Stacks, the holdings could be best described as being heterogeneous, meaning that the collection contained items from all disciplines, both relevant and irrelevant to current scholarly needs as well as being scholarly and popular. The serials included current receipts, older bound volumes, and runs that had been superseded by backfiles. The unit served as both the high-density, remote storage of its day and the primary repository for current receipts depending upon the foot-print of the unit library in question. In short, the Main Stacks served a multitude of purposes, but primarily served as an unmanaged repository as little thought was given to the overall type of collection being created in that unit. Such oversight was not necessarily feasible or constructive at the time. However, that time has passed.

Managing the University Library's Physical Collections After Oak St:  The University Library's physical collections include the holdings of many unit libraries (including the Undergraduate Library), the Stacks, and the Oak Street Storage Facility. These collections can neither be considered in isolation from one another nor from the Library's significant investment in electronic resources, especially when it comes to cost effectively managing the collection. While similarities exist between the holdings in each of these unit-types, there are differences that are largely defined by the constituents they are intended to serve. These are differences that the University Library must be attuned to on an institutional level. They are differences that we must be prepared to exploit in order to maximize our resources in the coming years. No longer can we consider the collections of the Undergraduate Library to be isolated from those held by the rest of the University Library.

The presence of a high density storage facility on campus provides the institution with a unique opportunity to shape the collections that we hold within the Main Stacks relative to our holdings in other locations. Previously, the Stacks served as a central repository for lesser-used content in many disciplines and as a restricted but directly-accessible location.  They also held a heterogeneous collection. In all likelihood, the Main Stacks will continue to hold a heterogeneous collection, although the emphasis may shift toward those disciplines with a heavy emphasis on retrospective holdings, image-heavy content, or limited digital surrogates.  As a consequence, direct access to a collection of this size and breadth will also continue to be an imperfect mechanism for discovery.  However, direct access continues to play an important part in the research and intellectual exploration of some materials.  As a consequence, direct access to a collection of this size and breadth will also continue to be an imperfect, although important, mechanism.    

That being the case, what physical collection, or collections, should occupy the space currently designated as the Main Stacks? Unless the University Library chooses to make a radical departure from past practice and create nearly comprehensive collections in particular collecting areas (thereby relegating large portions of the collections to a departmental library/Oak St. collection management model), the Library should concentrate on retaining within the Main Stacks those items that require physical access without compromising their security.

The following table outlines criteria applied to define each of the broad collection categories and maps them to their existing storage models at UIUC.

Type of Storage Decentralized, Directly Accessible Centralized, Directly Accessible High-density, Indirectly Accessible
Location Unit Libraries (multiple locations) Main Stacks Oak Street
Collection Characteristics
  • Low density
  • Physical access
  • High direct access need
  • Monographs
  • Unbound serials
  • Low theft risk
  • Directed at user groups
  • Collections with pre-existing cataloging/ location needs).
  • Medium density
  • Physical access
  • Material expected to have higher access needs
  • Monographs
  • Bound serials with no digital surrogate
  • Low theft risk
  • Low preservation need
  • Limited duplication
  • High density
  • Mediated physical access
  • Materials expected to have low circulation
  • Monographs and serials with good digital access
  • Items with good cataloging and/or indexing
  • Items meeting RBML criteria (mediated circulation)
  • Items with defined preservation problems (mediated circulation)
  • Items in need of protection from theft (mediated circulation)

Recommendations for Management of Collections

  • Implement Professional Management Practices:

    • Identify an internal candidate to serve as a Collection Maintenance Librarian or AP. Alternately, identify funding for this need from retirements of existing personnel. This individual would be responsible for overall supervision and proactive management of all Central Access Services Collection Management functions in the Main Stacks and at Oak Street.
  • Protect Special Collections:

    • Because access to the Main Stacks was restricted, material could be housed there that would be otherwise protected at our peer institutions.  Following best practices widely accepted throughout our profession, the University Library should remove items that are rare, fragile or at risk from theft or vandalism from this location; it is the University Library’s curatorial responsibility to ensure that those items deemed rare, fragile or particularly susceptible to theft should be located in an environment that will provide them maximum protection. Consequently, we recommend that the University Library uniformly apply its existing policies for such content. These include the CDC-approved Oak Street Selection Policy (12/2007) and the existing Guidelines for Transfer to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.  Under these policies, all publications dated 1820 or earlier should be sent to RBOS (Rare Book Oak Street) or RBML as determined by the Library’s Curator of Rare Books.  Additionally, material of high monetary or artifactual value should be identified and sent to RBX or RBOS. Examples of such material could include, but are not limited to: Nineteenth-century illustrated books (esp. folios and quartos), e.g. American county atlases, travel and exploration books; Nineteenth-century periodicals, especially illustrated journals, e.g. Punch, Scientific American, etc.; Nineteenth-century literary magazines, especially those that published original fiction, e.g. Cornhill, London Journal, etc.; Nineteenth-century English “triple-decker” novels (Dewey 823); Nineteenth-century books with notable decorated bindings still in good condition.
  • Limit Numbers of Holdings:

    • A cap should be placed on the number of copies of particular titles held within the Stacks. Ideally, no more than two, and certainly no more than three, copies of any particular edition should be held within the Stacks.
  • Make Use a Defining Criterion:

    • The remaining holdings in the Main Stacks should be expected to receive at least moderate use, meaning that the institution should aggressively relocate items with surrogate access, those serving exceedingly limited populations on campus, and backlogs of limited projected use.  Monographs and serials that are not digitized to a yet-to-be-determined standard or are poorly indexed should be included within the Stacks.  However, that also means that any serials located in the Main Stacks that are available locally though commercially delivered or locally created backfiles should be moved to Oak St. as soon as appropriate bibliographic access can be provided. The same applies to monographs superseded by e-book editions and large runs of text heavy serials for which complete surrogate holdings exist in microfilm or digital surrogates.
  • Government Documents:

    • The Library’s SuDoc-classified Government Documents (post-1978) were recently relocated in keeping with the recommendations of the Bookstacks Reorganization Task Force (2005). It is our recommendation that these items be left in place but that the Library actively monitor developing professional discussions about the management of government documents libraries nation-wide and evaluate their implementation as appropriate. Those items cataloged and shelved with the Dewey holdings should be treated according to aforementioned criteria for the management of the general collections housed within the Main Stacks. 
  • Asian Library:

    • The Asian Library’s holdings are managed separately from the Main Stacks. It is our recommendation that these items be considered separately from this assessment of the Main Stacks. However, given the severe limitations on shelving space within the remaining Main Stacks space, this body does not recommend that any additional shelving space be allocated to the storage of Asian Library collections within the Main Stacks.
  • Folios and Minis:

    • The University Library must address the needs of folio materials shelved within the Main Stacks. Over the past several years, the Preservation and Conservation Program invested significant resources in providing protective enclosures for these materials in preparation for the move proposed by the Book Stacks Reorganization TF. The University Library must provide shelving and service accommodations that improve upon the free-standing folio shelving currently employed along the perimeter of the Main Stacks. We recommend that the Library charge a TF with completing an evaluation of all folios currently housed in the Main Stacks to determine appropriate shelving location, that the Main Stacks work with this group to develop the planned folio shelving area and dispose of the free-standing units that obstruct traffic along the Main Stacks’ exterior aisles, and that all bottom shelving in the second addition of Oak St. not occupied by flat storage be reserved for additional map or folio storage needs. Lastly, for preservation reasons, folios should be restricted to in-building circulation only.
    • In addition to the folios, miniature volumes are shelved within the Main Stacks.  These should be assessed for quantity and appropriateness of management as RBX/RBOS items.
  • Record Cleanup:

    • The clean-up of 200,000 serials holding records in the Stacks is the bottleneck to progress on virtually all of the larger collection management improvements identified by this working group. Cooperative work has begun between the CAS and CAM, and a grant application has been submitted by CAS and CAM to provide some funding for this project. But, current internal resources are maxed out between those two units. The resolution of this problem is impeding the shift, the development of the retrospective reference collection, and the movement of significant numbers of volumes to Oak St. It is also severely impacting the access that the University Library provides to both our own patrons and those we serve though ILL/DD services. The record cleanup has been repeatedly cited in funding requests as the highest priority item for Central Access Services, and it must be considered a priority – even at the expense of funding other requests.
  • Retrospective Reference:

    • The Retrospective Reference Working Group (RRWG) is moving ahead with their planning, but the progress of this working group in both planning and implementation is constrained by needed resolution to many of the projects outlined as part of the charge of the Stacks Services Working Group. The plans of the RRWG will be outlined in that Implementation Team’s report, but center on a phased approach. The most important issue of note in this group’s report is that phase two of the Retrospective Reference Collection’s construction requires resolution of issues with the Serials Display.
  • Serials in the Stacks:

    • The only serials to remain in the Main Stacks should be bound volumes. The Serials Display has been an unsatisfactory operation for many years. The display does not encourage use. The display does not support efficient management of the materials displayed, nor does it efficiently store the materials awaiting binding. And, perhaps most importantly, the serials display does not encourage the type of curatorial management required to ensure that the materials selected and acquired by the University Library are appropriate to the academic needs of the University community. While there are unique titles in that location, the display tends to fall into the ‘out of sight/out of mind’ category of collection development. Moreover, it only composes a portion of the serials received in the Stacks. A number of titles are received in the Stacks and placed, unbound among the rest of the collection.
    • In the case of both these items and those shelved in the Stacks, acquisitions are not always managed with an eye to developing a valuable research collection, and the collection itself is neglected. It is the recommendation of this body that the University Library close the Stacks Serials Display, identify those items received in the Stacks, and redirect both to appropriate units or a central serials location for management of the current holdings, and refine the Stacks collection profile to focus on the management of bound serials. We believe that the CDC should charge a Task Force to review the current receipts in the display, review the current receipts in the general stacks, identify appropriate units to house the current receipts whenever possible, and work with the Acquisitions unit to centrally check in those items and direct them to the appropriate units within the Library. The space currently housing the Stacks Serials Display is required for the Retrospective Reference Collection by May 2009.
  • Shift:

    • The Stacks Shift is required for progress on several initiatives underway. The development of a folio shelving location and removal of the free-standing ‘folio’ shelving that crowds aisles requires progress on the shift. The aforementioned relocation of the Stacks sorting space, consolidation of our Q-shelving, and development of the Retrospective Reference Collection all depend upon the shift’s completion.


Staff/Operational Improvements

Throughout our discussions, the group determined that most of the staff and operational improvements were the purview of Central Access Services. We did consider previous recommendations to relocate the staff workspaces to other locations within the Main Stacks, but deferred to the revised staffing and operational plans currently being implemented by Central Access Services.

Recommendations for Staff/Operational Improvements

  • Sort :

    • In keeping with current Central Access Services plans, the sort area and other staff work areas will remain in the first addition of Deck 5 East to allow for better communication and work flow for staff. This also allows for more cross training potential and better staff coverage at all times, and ultimately provision of higher levels of service to our patrons.

User Environment

One of the topics that the Working Group wrestled with was the notion of what it meant to "open the stacks". Does this mean that we should examine the provision of free and unfettered access to the Main Stacks as we would any public location within the University Library? Or, was the concept of opening the stacks something more limited? Given the inherent difficulties of providing attentive service within the Main Stacks, the unwelcoming environment provided, the uncertain long-term use of the Main Stacks given the changing nature of information use, and the near impossibility of providing appropriate security in such a space, the working group focused its examination by adding one caveat to the discussion - "Opening the Stacks", if implemented, would be limited to UIUC- affiliated users (faculty, staff, and students) and patrons who are eligible for a stacks pass according to established guidelines.

Recommendations for Improving the User Environment

  • Accessing the Main Stacks:

    • The main service point dissuades users from self-service and is a significant cost center - requiring the staffing of three service points (turnstile, Stacks circulation desk, and Main Circulation Desk) within a thirty foot radius. The University Library must rethink operations and reconfigure the desk/entrance. Central Access Services personnel believe that a new desk would allow the University Library to consolidate the operations of these four service point and provide for more comprehensive coverage during the Library's operating hours. By reconfiguring the desk, the University Library could provide a more welcoming entrance, economize on personnel, and provide better wayfinding services to those entering the Main Stacks
  • Implementing Security Procedures:

    • The University Library must institute proper security procedures at the Stacks entrance- both for the safety of its collections and for the safety of its patrons. This includes providing a locker area for all coats and bags, maintaining the requirement that identification be shown at the entrance, and that all material be checked upon exiting
  • Protecting Our Assets:

    • While addressing the environmental needs of the Main Stacks within the three - five year timeline outlined in our charge might be unrealistic, this body considered any move to ignore the environmental conditions in the Main Stacks a grievous omission. The environmental conditions within the Main Stacks are among the most significant impediments to creating an environment welcoming to users. We cannot afford to put aside the importance of providing appropriate climate control as a means of prolonging the collection's life and the health and well being of patrons and staff working in the Main Stacks.While the installation of fire suppression, the installation of signage and temporary wayfinding devices in the event of an emergency, and the increased attention to security in the Main Stacks do indicate progress on addressing life-safety needs, significant deficiencies still exist that require the attention of campus-level bodies. Emergency lighting and permanent signage addressing life-safety needs are lacking. Passive security within the Main Stacks remains minimal. For example, no cameras exist within the space - not even covering the entrance. Additionally, communications are poor at best with poor cell reception and few publicly accessible phones for emergency use.
  • Lighting the Stacks:

    • Another significant deficit in the Main Stacks remains the lighting in the third addition. Incandescent bulbs in that addition continue casting poor light, generating excess heat, and driving up utility costs. However, the lighting is also required in order to provide adequate security for users. Lights should remain on in 5 East when the Library is open. But, we should replace incandescent bulbs in East Stacks with LED or compact fluorescent lighting and hanging light fixtures with shallower fixtures that will be less likely to interfere with patron use of the space.
  • Providing Patron Seating:

    • In the working group's consideration of seating needs, we realized that significant overlap existed between our charge and that of the Retrospective Reference Working Group. Our recommendations do not overlap with the space covered by that group. Our recommendations, therefore, focus on the 6th addition, non-RRWG addressed portions of the earlier editions, and the carrels. Additionally, the likelihood of making the Main Stacks a welcoming user environment without the addition of proper climate control is remote. So, our ability to develop a welcoming environment may be hamstrung as much by improvements beyond our immediate control than by those that we can influence. We do, however, recommend the following seating configuration be considered for the non-RRC areas: In the west stacks (6th addition), we recommend retaining the current model of providing minimal seating and a copier on each level. In the east stacks (3rd addition), we recommend providing the following resources on each level near the old paging stations: one or two networked computers, a printer, and a scanner. A fixed tripod or camera stand for patron use may also be useful in one location, most likely near the folio shelving or other materials ill-served by traditional copiersIn addition, we recommend that the University Library re-examine the assignment and management of carrels. The Library should (a) review carrel use according to records kept in the Circulation Office (b) consolidate assigned carrels to as few decks as possible and remove doors on remaining carrels; (c) replace hard chairs with comfortable seating and install cool task lighting in all carrels (which carries the added benefit of reducing fire risk from patron supplied equipment), and (d) establish a $15/semester rental fee in keeping with practices at other institutions. This fee would generate some income for maintenance and upkeep of the assigned carrels. No carrels should be used for the storage of backlogs, unprocessed collections, office records, or other such materials.
  • Wayfinding and Signage:

    • Another impediment to effective use of the Main Stacks by patrons (regardless of their familiarity with Dewey Classification) remains the lack of consistent, effective, and up-to-date signage and wayfinding aids.
    • In terms of providing effective signage, the Working Group recommends that signs be substantial - meant to last five to ten years - and colorful to attract attention. The University Library needs to complete a plan for signing the Library as a whole, but the need is particularly acute if there is intent to encourage more use of the Main Stacks. In addition to requiring signs that better address life safety needs, the minimal signage needs include: (a) a large sign visible when you first step off each elevator listing the location and materials located in the immediate vicinity; (b) call numbers in that location with arrows for which direction to walk for each call no. range; and (c) "you are here " maps. There should be signs on both sides of doors between East and West Stacks indicating direction. For example, "this way to 7 East ". Lastly, all signs should include the following text at the bottom: "Exit the Stacks at Level 5 East".
    • In addition to improved signs, the University Library must invest in the improvement of browsing aides for patrons. (This is a service issue which has already been discussed, but is a work in progress that will take a bit longer to perfect)Once patrons are past the main entrance, patrons can then rely upon a more fully developed suite of browsing aides that include an updated and expanded permanent display of Stacks maps, a FAQ outlining topics pertinent to accessing collections within the Main Stacks, and labeled areas with floor maps just outside each elevator.



Appendix A: Charge and Membership of the Stacks Services Working Group

Appendix B: Summary Table of Recommendations of the Stacks Services Working Group