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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the June 5, 2002
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Book Repository: Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind
To reach a book on a top shelf, this librarian uses
a forklift. She files books by barcode, not Dewey Decimal numbers.
And her 19-person processing team can shelve up to 17,000 books a
Eileen Henthorne has forsaken the retail side of the library business
— lending books — to devote herself to the wholesale side,
book storage. On Princeton’s Forrestal Campus, she has established
a mammoth book depository for Columbia and Princeton universities
and the New York Public Library. In this innovative collaboration,
the three institutions are building and operating a shelving facility,
the Research Collection and Preservations Consortium (ReCAP).
Keeping millions of books safe yet accessible is made possible —
and economical — by the use of barcodes. Barcoded books are
not individually by subject, but on trays that are organized by the
books’ height, so more books can be stored in less space. To retrieve
a book, a librarian looks up the computer code that locates its
A handful of universities (including Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Duke,
and Johns Hopkins) have already dealt with book glut by building
facilities, because it is cheaper to build a depository for
books than to add space to a library. It is also less controversial
than telling a professor that back copies of his favorite and obscure
journal must be discarded to make way for more popular fare.
But ReCAP’s collaborative facility, with three libraries sharing costs
and commingling their books on the same shelves, is a first. Instead
of having one boss, Henthorne must please a board of governors. With
her workers meeting production deadlines and shelving books three
stories high, she operates ReCAP like a warehouse, yet with her Lose
No Item policy, she also runs it like a library.
Located on the Forrestal Campus on Route 1 North, the same campus
that houses Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and the Geophysical
Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, the 70,000-square-foot ReCAP building has
concrete masonry walls and looks like a giant warehouse with a wall
of windows. Officially opened on May 20, ReCAP has been operating
since January and has already shelved more than 500,000 items.
Excluding the 6.5 acres, which were bought for $3 million, it cost
$17 million to build and outfit ReCAP’s first three modules.
Bruce Scott Russell, Scott, Steedle & Capone of Boston did the design,
along with Dan Bernstein of Sasaki Associates. Sordoni Skanska had the
construction contract, and Richard Wizeman of Van-Note Harvey on
Road did the engineering. The Aegis Property Group’s Robert J.
(Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Class of 1981, and Wharton MBA)
managed the project from getting the digging permits to obtaining
the occupancy certificates.
"From a decision-making point of view," says Rittenhouse,
"it was one of the most challenging projects because we were
with three large institutions, guiding them through the
process so that the decisions got made on time."
Two of the first three 70 by 210-foot modules are being used, and
together they can house a total of 7.5 million items. Columbia
and NYPL had already been storing books offsite, and the three modules
are expected to hold all of that and then absorb an additional
worth of extra books.
"The current thinking is that the capacity of the first three
units will last through 2005," says Rittenhouse, "and that
a new unit will be added every three to five years." Another 12
modules can be added for another 30 million volumes. "At maximum
capacity this facility could last 50 to 75 years and hold in excess
of 37 million volumes."
"This facility provides an extraordinary opportunity for us, not
only to store, but to extend the life of our growing collections —
employing all the technological advances that have occurred in
— and to continue to make original materials available to our
patrons in a timely fashion," says William D. Walker, senior vice
president at the New York Public Library. The books will fare better
here than if they were in stacks accessible to the public. Not only
do they not risk being misplaced or stolen, but they also benefit
from careful temperature and humidity control plus filtering of
in the air.
"Great libraries in this era of technological revolutions will
be determined more on the quality of the collections and the ease
with which materials can be accessed and used than by the sheer number
of journals and books they possess," says Jonathan Cole,
provost. "This consortium marks a moment of triumph of
and cooperation over competition."
"The storage facility should be thought of as a very efficient,
very large library, not a warehouse," says Karin Trainer,
Here’s how it works:
Columbia and New York Public Library are gradually emptying their
remote storage facilities and shipping the books by truck to the
Campus. Columbia expected to move 1 million of its more than 7 million
volumes in the first year and to add to the stored collection at a
rate of 110,000 books and journal collections per year. The Public
Library will deposit 1.3 million of its 13.3 million book-like
and estimated it would increase deposits to 150,000 volumes per year.
Princeton University has enough space for its current collection,
about 6 million volumes, but will need the archival space in a couple
In ReCAP’s processing area, workers check that to be sure that each
book has a barcode identifying the title and which library owns it.
They size the books and pack them into trays, arranged by the height
of the book. "Usually 19 processing assistants are on the floor,
sizing the books, doing the data entry for verification, and putting
the books in trays," says Henthorne.
A volume of Russian poetry might sit on the tray next to a political
biography of similar height. "All we care about is that there
is a barcode on the book, on the tray, and on the shelf where they
reside," says Henthorne. "Our inventory control system tracks
all those bar codes."
The processors log the barcodes into the inventory control software
provided by Maine-based Generation Fifth Incorporated. Accuracy is
maintained by a triple-check system that involves handheld portable
data terminals (PDTs), barcode scanners, handwritten notes, and the
inventory control database. All the barcode information is loaded
into a diskette, verified several times, and sent back to the
so they can update their online catalogs.
When filled, the trays go on carts wheeled into the storage module.
This giant refrigerated vault has 32-foot-high shelving systems and
aisles only wide enough for a forklift to pass. It has the eerie,
echoing quiet of a mausoleum, broken only by the beep beep beep of
a forklift trying to back out of an aisle.
"We receive 8,000 to 15,000 items a day, and we have been able
to `shelve out’ up to 17,000 items in one day," says Henthorne.
To stay fresh, the processors switch jobs every two hours. "It
is a team effort," she says. "All of us are certified to drive
The consortium hopes that no more than five percent of the archived
books will be circulated in any given year, and Henthorne is getting
requests for books at the rate of 70 per day. If a request comes in,
say for that volume of Russian poetry, ReCAP workers use the computer
database to locate it, operate a forklift to get it, and place it
in a plastic barcoded tote. "We know how many books are in each
tote and who is supposed to receive it," says Henthorne. Rather
than using a commercial delivery service, ReCAP contracted with
Moving and Storage at Exit 8A to provide climate-controlled courier
van service. "It gives us more control."
The consortium members are sharing the costs based on their use of
the depository, and they although they originally announced they would
cut costs by pruning their collections to remove duplicates, they
have backed down from that plan. They continue to pursue the goal
of digitizing back issues of stored journals, which comprise 60
of all stored materials. "This consortium is taking a leadership
position by moving into a digital age when materials will be made
available to people all over the world," said Columbia Provost
Cole. But some scholars vehemently prefer handling and seeing paper
Even though the ReCAP workers are employed by the
Princeton University does the hiring. "We had looked at hiring
a warehousing firm to manage the facility but they were all so very
expensive that it made sense for Princeton to run it," Henthorne
says. Also, the consortium was concerned that a regular facilities
management company would not be able to adapt to a library’s
"We have a model that we will NEVER lose a thing," Henthorne
says. "This has to be an extremely secure facility. And we had
certain things that we wanted to do with our books that we didn’t
think they would understand."
ReCAP is now fully staffed with 19 processors and five administrators.
To work here does not require a library background, but it does
computer skills and the ability to work up high and to lift heavy
loads. The processors belong to a library union, and she is beginning
to set performance standards for how many items can be processed in
Eileen Henthorne has two important qualifications for her job: She
used to work at the hub of library barcodes, OCLC in Dublin, Ohio,
and she managed the 100-person crew that scanned 6 million cards for
Firestone Library’s electronic card catalog.
Henthorne learned at her father’s knee. He was a safety/service safety
director in East Palestine, Ohio, near Youngstown. In effect, he was
a round-the-clock crisis manager. "As the oldest of three girls,
I picked up a lot of my traits from my father," she says. "I
followed my father around. During the summertime, I’d be out with
him watching how he ran the city."
Henthorne and her husband, who works in the insurance industry, have
chosen not to have children and have devoted themselves to their
"I never felt as though my life would be better with
she says, "and I am quite happy with the decision I made many
She majored in education and library science at Bowling Green State
University, taught school for five years, and worked in libraries
for 10 years. "I loved helping people and seeing them get so
about getting exactly what they needed to write their paper. That
would make my day."
When she joined OCLC, the huge information service for libraries,
she managed several important projects. "I enjoy getting in on
the bottom of a project that I think is useful and going to help
she says. "I am sort of driven, then, to make it work. I like
working with different groups, trying to get the systems people to
understand what it was that librarians needed to make their jobs
"Usually I went to ALA conventions and asked librarians what they
needed, then we decided what OCLC could do to help them." For
instance, she helped small libraries in California and North Carolina
use state funds to get their card catalogs online.
When her husband was transferred to Continental in Cranbury 10 years
ago (he is now working in Manhattan), she started working at Firestone
Library. Her biggest project was the electronic card catalog, and
she also set up an electronic reserve project for E-mailing
Henthorne likes a challenge, and she is always looking for a new one.
"I work on the idea and get people to help put it together. Once
it is up and running I usually walk away from it. This one will last
a little longer for me."
"For this project I have been able to stay involved, actually
hiring people. I really feel connected to all the people who work
here and making sure this is a success. We are already meeting the
quotas that we thought we could meet but I would like to stick with
it to make sure it really is working."
About that forklift. All the staff took training in how to handle
rare books and how to deliver books to high shelves. Even Henthorne
needs to climb onto the forklift sometimes, but before her training
she was very afraid of high places. Says Henthorne, "With everyone
standing around watching, I had to overcome that fear real
400 Forrestal Road, Princeton 08540. Eileen Henthorne. 609-258-3388;
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