Extending Your Reach

School and university libraries are serving more functions than ever, ranging from research hubs to community gathering places. Many libraries have adopted the retail bookstore model by offering overstuffed chairs and more seating areas, hoping to encourage students to linger comfortably over a book. Appealing to today's lifestyles and adapting to evolving technology while continuing to provide enough room for a school's growing collections have made maximizing space a priority for school libraries.

Older facilities, particularly on college campuses, were designed for book- and periodical-based research. Retrofitting libraries to include workstations with Internet access, discussion-group areas and multimedia use often means encroaching on the space for traditional stacks. To resolve this space crunch, a school eventually may build a new library, expand an existing facility or move some materials off-site. All these options have drawbacks. New libraries can be prohibitively expensive; expansion also is costly and can be difficult, especially on landlocked campuses. And high-rise pickers or off-site storage options often don't allow library users easy access to materials.

Another option is available — high-density mobile storage. Storage units, mounted on carriages and rails, move and compact to turn wasted aisle space into productive workspace. A mobile storage system virtually doubles the capacity of an existing facility.

Going mobile

A mobile shelving expert can save a school time and money by incorporating mobile storage into a library layout and preserving space for other purposes, such as common areas and atriums.

Many large schools are using mobile storage to house their large collections more efficiently. Space management is critical for these research-oriented academic libraries. To be accredited, they must have certain volumes of research material on hand, and most of this material is not digitized. High-density mobile storage is an increasingly popular way to house these research collections.

But large libraries aren't the only ones who can benefit from this approach. For example, Deerpath Junior High, Lake Forest, Ill., incorporated mechanical-assist mobile storage to increase the flexibility of its Information Resource Center (IRC). During school hours, the IRC is used for classroom groups, and after school for staff and community meetings. The mobile shelving acts as a room divider during the day to create three distinct spaces. At the end of the day, the folding tables and stacking chairs are cleared, the shelving is compacted against the wall, and the space is open for larger events.

Mobile storage gives schools added flexibility in adhering to provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA's minimum aisle width is 36 inches, and the desirable width is 42 inches. Moving over every aisle of static shelving by six inches will quickly take up a great deal of space. With mobile storage, schools can set the open-aisle width to 42 inches and still have significant space gains.

Even if a school is not considering mobile storage right now, incorporating it into a library's design can give the facility greater flexibility in the future. Any new construction a school is considering should be able to support high-density weights. Slightly increasing the beam size and load-bearing capacity of the floor slab during initial construction is much less expensive than retrofitting a building when the inevitable space-crunch arrives.

Pushing the right buttons

Powered, programmable mobile systems enable users to open the desired aisle with the touch of a button. For safety, completely passive safety systems are a necessity. Safety systems that use laser or infrared sensors prevent an aisle from closing while people or objects are in it. These systems automatically reset, and the laser-based options allow a person to enter an opening aisle without causing it to stop immediately. However, the carriages stop immediately if a person enters a closing aisle. These systems include fail-safe measures to bolster their safety and reliability.

Technology also can help improve security. Schools can wire a powered mobile system into a facility's security system to help protect documents from fire. Access controls can help institutions limit wear and tear and prevent theft of sensitive materials. Powered mobile systems also can be programmed for climate control — opening and shutting automatically after library hours to prevent mold and mildew.

By incorporating the wide range of colors, finishes and materials available, mobile storage can be an attractive component of a library's design. Upper panels can be fabricated of almost any material — brushed aluminum, wood veneer with crown molding or formed-and-contoured acrylic — and easily changed when an interior undergoes redesign. Surfaces also can be fabric-covered, laminated or matched to finishes (stone, metal, wood grain).

Choosing the best shelving also is critical and depends on the types of materials being stored — books, periodicals, videos, DVDs, compact discs, laptops, tapes, microforms, specimens, rare documents and artwork. Beyond the ubiquitous cantilever shelving, high-density mobile systems can incorporate small-media drawers, system bins, special collections and archival arrangements. Often, libraries can retrofit existing shelving into a mobile system, which helps keep costs down.

Check it out

Schools looking at mobile storage for their libraries should seek references from other schools or universities. Experiencing mobile storage firsthand is probably the best way to determine whether it can work for your school. Administrators should visit other libraries that have a mobile storage system or see if a vendor will set up a small system in the school library to gauge student and staff reaction.

Examine a company's longevity in the market and International Organization for Standardization certification, which can be strong indicators of reliability and quality. Once a school decides on a system, the installation crew should be manufacturer-certified. Some manufacturers will hire general laborers to install equipment, which can lead to costly mistakes.

Batterman is director of marketing at Spacesaver Corporation, Fort Atkinson, Wis., a manufacturer of high-density mobile storage systems. Spacesaver worked on the Central Michigan University project (sidebar).


A case study from Central Michigan University:


Number of volumes stored at Central Michigan University's Charles V. Park Library.

▪ 30,000

Number of square feet freed up by mobile shelving (from 75,000 sq. ft. to 45,000 sq. ft.).

▪ 95

Percentage of books now stored in mobile shelving systems.


Amount that the construction budget was below projections because mobile storage solutions used less space.

Central Michigan University compacts its collection

Central Michigan University (CMU), Mount Pleasant, Mich., had 1.1 million volumes to store, students to serve and a limited budget with which to expand the Charles V. Park Library. Planners quickly realized that if they took a traditional approach, they would have to double the library's size. To stay within budget, CMU needed to build a smaller addition that used space more efficiently.

High-density mobile storage turned out to be the solution. Powered mobile storage reduced the total space needed for books from 75,000 to 45,000 square feet and offered safety, efficiency and ease of movement for the open-access stacks.

“The more we read and talked with people, the more mobile shelving just made sense,” said Pamela Grudzien, head of collection development. “So much seating had been taken out of the old library to put in more stacks. This was a way of getting half to three-quarters more shelving capacity than we had before in a very limited amount of space.”

To address structural floor-loading concerns, architects designed the new addition to house the stacks with powered, programmable mobile shelving. By enabling more to be stored in less space, the design helped bring construction bids in almost $6 million under budget.

“A lot of money was saved, yet there's still plenty of room to add to our collection,” said Grudzien. “We also were able to add quite a few nice amenities — things that weren't in the original program budget.”

Mobile shelving now houses 95 percent of the library's collection, with the more frequently accessed reference resources available in standard shelving. In renovating the original building, the university added an atrium that brings light and airiness to the building. What had been a cramped space now accommodates study areas, support services and other administrative functions.

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