Off-site storage center opens up space in Main Library as stacks become more accessible

Matt Marth, Reporter

Over the past nine years, Northwestern University Libraries has moved over 2.5 million items from its Evanston and Chicago locations to the Oak Grove Library Center for off-site storage, allowing for improvements in physical accessibility.

The OGLC, located in Waukegan, Ill., was built in 2011 to ease overcrowding in NUL facilities. Oak Grove provides high-density storage for low-use materials from Northwestern’s expanding library collections.

The storage capabilities at Oak Grove have not only allowed the libraries to make space for new acquisitions by moving low-use materials off-site, but have also allowed staff to begin to rearrange the layout of the Main Library towers to foster accessibility, head of print collection management for NUL John Brdecka said. 

Brdecka said the towers of Main Library were designed with a capacity of 120,000 items per tower.  At the peak of overcrowding and before the construction of OGLC, each tower held around 220,000 items. 

After the construction of OGLC, the library has continually broadened the scope of off-site storage. Currently, items that have been checked out zero or one times in the last ten years are in the process of being moved off-site. Ivan Albertson, collections coordinator for NUL, said the library is currently moving about 25,000 items off-site per month.

The items being stored at OGLC are still fully available to the Northwestern community. These items can be requested online and will be transferred by OGLC staff to Evanston and made available for pick-up the next business day.

The availability of storage at the Oak Grove center has also allowed library staff to take steps to make Main Library more accessible. At the peak of overcrowding, the towers of Main Library were largely wheelchair inaccessible due to the tight spacing of shelves  

Four North in Main Library is currently serving as a “test tower” for a more easy-to-use configuration of the stacks, Brdecka said.  The shelves on this level have been reconfigured to facilitate wheelchair use, and items in this tower are no longer on the top or bottom shelves.

“We wanted to eliminate books on the bottom and top shelves to increase the accessibility of patrons who want to go get their own stuff, no matter what type of physical limitations they have,” Brdecka said.

NUL plans to eventually implement this more accessible configuration in all of the towers in Main Library.

Library staff are also nearing the end of the process of making the organization of Main’s stacks more coherent.

“Once books are shifted to Oak Grove, we can then consolidate the books remaining in Main and reconsider the sequence and the logic behind the arrangement of the books,” Albertson said. 

Kenny Hill, a Weinberg senior, has requested books from OGLC and said he found the process straightforward.

Regarding the library’s plans to reconfigure the stacks, Hill said staff should be cognizant of disabled students. 

“It’s important to be conscious of people with physical disabilities, and their ability to access information and study spaces,” Hill said.

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