The University of British Columbia (UBC) has taken a page from Harvard with its Library Preservations and Archives (Library PARC). The new facility uses a model developed at the Massachusetts-based Ivy League school that extends the shelf life of books from 30 years in a typical collections environment to 300 years in a low-humidity, low-temperature environment.
The model is more common in the U.S., but Robert Lange, partner at DGBK, the architectural firm behind the Library PARC, predicts that it will soon spread to other Canadian institutions.
“It’s a bit of a misnomer,” he said. “We always think everything’s going digital, but universities and public libraries are still acquiring a lot of physical copies, and those are just growing exponentially, so there is a real need for all facilities.”
The 2,200 square metres of space dedicated to collection storage at the Library PARC holds up to 1.6-million volumes on 35-foot-tall shelves.
In a departure from the Dewey decimal system, the Harvard model groups books by size to minimize the amount of space between shelves. The bar codes assigned to each book, book tray and shelf tell pickers, who use forklifts to retrieve items requested by students at the UBC Library’s various branches, exactly where to find the items on their pick list for the day.
When users return books, library staff working in the processing area examine them for signs of contamination. If staff identify bugs or mould, it quarantines books in a refrigerated room before cleaning them.
Library PARC, which primarily operates as a storage facility, also features a reading room, where students can view rare books within sight of the administrative offices for security, and the university’s records management office. The processing and administrative areas step down to a single storey, breaking up the massing of the tall, rectangular storage facility in behind.
One of the benefits of the Harvard model is that it provides high-density storage without sacrificing prime real estate in the centre of campus, Lange pointed out. Library PARC is located in UBC’s Forest District, which in part served as inspiration for the facility’s design.
“We drew this parallel to the quality of light you see coming through a forest — lines of trees and the light between them — and understanding that this was similar in a sense to the bar code,” he said. “We tried to use that language throughout the building, in various places — in the glazing system, on the cladding on the building, and with the large wooden sun screen elements — so trying to draw upon that idea of rhythm and vertical lines through the building.”
The facility’s location didn’t come without its challenges, a key one being how to accommodate heavy loads in the seismic zone. Other project challenges included coordinating the fire-sprinkler system and delivering the super flat floor demanded by the tall shelves, Lange recalled.
UBC Properties Trust, who invited DGBK to submit a proposal based on its previous work on the Vancouver Police Department’s property and forensic storage facility, managed the project. Wales McClelland Construction built the facility using a tilt-up concrete system with locally sourced concrete.
UBC is targeting LEED Silver certification for the Library PARC project. Originally, said Lange, the goal was to go for LEED Gold, but it became clear in the early stages of the project that it was unrealistic for this type of facility.
“It’s essentially a huge refrigerator, so it’s very, very challenging to get many energy credits,” he explained.
Library PARC marks the first of seven modules provided for in DGBK’s site plan. The Harvard model dictates the size of the building and height of shelves based on fire regulations and insurance requirements. Beyond a certain threshold, these facilities become uninsurable, Lange noted.
The Association of Research Libraries ranked UBC Library as the 14th in the North America. With 15 branches and divisions, home to more than seven-million items, the institution represents the second-largest research library in Canada.
“Library PARC is key in terms of helping us house our ever-growing collections and providing innovative spaces worthy of a 21st-century research library,” said Ingrid Parent, university librarian at UBC. “The facility’s carefully controlled environment will extend the life of the library’s collections, ensuring their availability to current and future generations of students, scholars and lifelong learners.”
Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.