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Off the Beaten Path: The Buhr Shelving Facility

BY DAVID WATNICK
Managing Arts Editor
Published October 5, 2009

Sitting unassumingly on Greene Street in an old tool and die factory, Buhr Shelving Facility looks more like a garage than a library that houses treasured academic materials.

Opened in 1981 as an overflow facility for the library’s ever-expanding collection, Buhr now holds nearly 2.8 million items — mostly books, but also thousands of LPs and microfilm rolls, according to Susan Wooding, operations manager of Hatcher, Buhr and Shapiro Access Services.

It is the largest single library in the University Library System, which owns more than 7 million items in total.

The idea of Buhr was conceived in the late 1970s, a time when many University libraries were reaching their shelving capacity, Wooding said.

Buhr was originally intended to shelve massive quantities of “low-use” books from around the University, and at the time it was among the most advanced library projects in the world.

In addition to those “low-use” books, today Buhr also houses other books that are unique, rare, requiring protection, or too large to fit elsewhere, Wooding said.

Since opening, Buhr has essentially become a universal recipient of odds and ends from across campus.

Wooding said other libraries decide what to send Buhr based on their own criteria, and Buhr then shelves the items.

Among the prizes of Buhr’s collection are volumes dating from the 17th century, and copies of every single dissertation ever written at the University — some 34,000.

To maximize space efficiency throughout its seven-floor building, Buhr relies on a novel system that separates books by size before shelving them according to when they arrived at the storage facility, Wooding said.

This organizational approach leads to rather unfriendly shelves — books by the same author or about the same subject can be scattered throughout the enormous space.

As a result, Buhr’s multiple stack rooms are closed to the browsing public. To access a book from the Buhr collection, students and faculty need only to request the book online and it will be delivered to another campus library, usually within 24 hours.


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