Oak Street High Density Storage Tour: change the frame to be more efficient

Today we visited Oak Street High Density Storage Facility. (Well, Andy said he doesn’t like the word “storage” but prefer “shelves,” so I will call it the shelves too – and really it is!)



At first the building looked like a huuuuge container box, and I thought it would be just shelves full with old and rarely used books, just like any other storage or preservation stack, but it was different from the fundamental approach.




As librarians, we got so used to categorize things (especially books) based on their subjects, no matter which classification system we apply. We like to look items ordered in subject areas, genres, or alphabetically etc. In Oak Street shelves, however, a totally different but very efficient rule is applied; they organize books by their sizes.



It was a simple but very efficient and effective way to preserve a number of items in the limited space. It was somewhat mind-changing too. Do we care in which server a specific information is saved online as long as you have its hyperlink? We don’t, then why not the books? As long as we can get the book delivered to our labs or classrooms within 24 hours, or if hurried, faster than that.



When the item arrives, it gets its unique bar-code on it and goes through some stabilizing process. It can be tied, enveloped, filed etc. Then it is measured. See the measuring tray below!


The item now is stored in the right sized box with other materials similar in size. Its subject? author? title? Anything doesn’t matter but size. When the box is full, it is shelved with the number of the stored items. Of course, the bar-codes of the books and boxes, and their locations are all kept in records.


Those double deep shelves are standing in about 10 Centigrade temperature and 30% humidity, which is an ideal environment for long-term preservation. Thanks to that, not only books but fragile multimedia items and old materials can be housed safely and prevented from further deterioration. See the good condition of the photo of the floor plan drawn in 1929!



The vaults are also equipped with fire protection system in case of fire. After I came here, what I felt sorry about the most facilities of my organization in Korea is that they are not fully prepared against natural or human caused disasters. We had a few serious earthquakes last year and the damage and loss were considerable because we haven’t paid enough concerns in that matter.




On the contrary, Oak Street High Density Storage and other UIUC library’s facilities, such as, NCSA made  proactive provision for disasters and recovery. I think it is one of great examples that serves the UN’s sustainable development goal #9, which is “Building resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation.” It is resilient, innovative, and sustainable in the ways it was built, is maintained, managed, and providing services to the community.



Back to its routine work, everyday staff print out the list of requests though the system called Library Archival System (developed by Generation Fifth Application) and locate them. Do you see the ladders and crane in the photos? and the staff fully harnessed? All 24 staff are working here. They are all well trained, safety cautious, know what they do. They can’t be any less, because after all, the shelves are serving whole UIUC people with 4 million items!



In these video clips, you can see the vaults and shelves more lively. Some shelves in deeper inside are movable or/and height-adjustable to utilize the space more effectively. If you are scared of what it they crush anything between them, you may rest assured that they sense it and stop! Additionally, it’s hard not to notice the loud alarm sound.


Oak Street​ High Density Storage was indeed something to see and I want to introduce to my organization. Though many of academic libraries are turning to electronic resources more and more, the print collections are inevitably increasing day by day, and it’s one of the library’s responsibilities to preserve them and provide long term access too. In terms of that, one copy of every library collection is supposed to stay at Oak Street High Density Storage, which I also highly appreciated.



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