UNM libraries look to turn a new page as they search for a solution to their mounting problems of overcrowded bookshelves and fewer students checking out books.
Steven Harris, collections strategist for University Libraries, said the number of students who check out volumes from on-campus libraries is declining.
“There are 200,000 circulations in a year,” Harris said. “It’s been going down over the last 10 years and I think the main driver of that is that so much is available online.”
Harris said 3.2 million volumes are housed in the University’s four libraries, which are Zimmerman, Centennial, Parish, and Fine Arts. But he said though fewer volumes are being checked out, the number of volumes available in the libraries is slowly increasing.
Harris said because of this, some libraries, such as Zimmerman and the Centennial Library, are having problems storing books.
“What is contributing to that problem is that the fire marshal said that the books were shelved too high and close to the ceiling,” he said. “We have to move books down a row so that there are at least 18 inches between the top of the books shelf and the ceiling. It’s causing crowding as well.”
Harris said unlike neighboring schools that have a storage facility for excess books, such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University, UNM does not have an off-campus storage facility available for the same purposes.
“We used to have a building that’s owned by the University called the Elks Building, and for a while we stored material there,” he said. “We’ve been told that we need to vacate in a year or so. At this point we don’t really have a storage facility.”
Harris said University Libraries is still pushing for a new storage facility to help alleviate the problem of the surplus books cluttering UNM’s libraries. He said the University did not grant the department’s request for an expansion of Zimmerman, which could have served as a storage facility.
Harris also said the department is being as resourceful as it can to find extra space in places, such as Zimmerman’s tower.
“One of the things that we’re doing is creating more compact shelving areas to store more stuff in smaller space,” he said. “(And) the tall part of Zimmerman is actually full of book stacks.”
Harris said University Libraries is considering eliminating some duplicate copies of books and other library materials that are not in current use. But he said there is a possibility the libraries might receive some backlash for that.
“There is a lot of stress about that both in the library world and amongst people who use the libraries,” he said. “If we start withdrawing materials from our collections then shipping them out the door, people will notice and sometimes get upset about that.”
UNM graduate student Preethi Dacha said she favors digitizing the libraries’ inventory. She said doing so will make research for students more convenient.
“I feel like it’s more comfortable putting it online because whenever we need it, we can look it over instead of coming to the libraries and finding out where exactly it is,” Dacha said. “It takes time. Putting it online saves time.”
Former UNM student Brandon Smith said the library needs to update its online inventory. But he said he is skeptical of whether having online-only copies of books instead of hard copies will actually benefit students.
“We have access to LIBROS, the online database, and it doesn’t seem that students use that either. But with the increasing availability of books in the Internet, I think the library is outdated in that sense,” Smith said.
Smith said the libraries should find a balance between the number of electronic and hard copies of books in the libraries.
“I am for putting it online, but as long as they keep a percentage of books in hard file so that it can’t be lost,” he said.
Although digitizing books is a trend in many libraries, Harris said it is very expensive and labor intensive.
However, he said UNM will subscribe to the HathiTrust Digital Library within the next year, which will allow the University community to access additional digitized content from 13 other universities through Google Books.
“The organization is thinking of it more as a library and less of a commercial venture and they’re making sure Google is preserving the digital files and that they give access to all of their students,” Harris said.