Release the majority of sq footage, collaborate with other universities.

Richard C. Larson
October 14, 2015

Traditional usage of library roaming stacks has plummeted, and their prime real estate can usually be recommitted to more productive uses. Where regional cooperation is possible, we suggest that universities and colleges partner with others in their area, creating a library collaborative. Under this system, all books whose copyrights have expired and are freely available over the Internet are no longer retained. Newer copyright-protected books are stored efficiently for robot picking in a nearby low-rent warehouse. Web-based book requests are sent immediately to the warehouse and picked with efficiency. Several times a day vans are dispatched from the warehouse to deliver ordered books to central locations at each respective participating institution. Individuals not needing books the same day would receive them the following day by campus mail.
The new system is likely to be better than the roaming stacks status quo . Often a person seeks a book, only to find that the nearest available copy is located elsewhere, to be acquired through an inter-library loan system. This takes days. But if most regional colleges and universities participate in the program, then all shared books would be just as available as those originally purchased by one’s home institution. The warehouse would be one giant shared library! No more special activities for inter-library loans. There is still another advantage to the library collaborative. Newer books are often so popular that several copies must be purchased. If each individual library system must do this, then many books are purchased. But under the shared system, the law of large numbers suggests that the total number of such popular books that must be purchased to assure a given level of book availability is less, sometimes much less, than that in the each-institution-goes-it-alone system. OR’s U.S. founder, Philip M. Morse won ORSA’s coveted Lanchester Prize for his 1968 book, “Library Effectiveness,” in which he demonstrated how tools of OR can lead to libraries becoming more efficient and effective. Now it’s time to update his research in an institutional new structure that leverages all that has occurred since the 1960’s. Such work would be less comfortable, again efficient, and possibly transformative.

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