Where are the books? A look inside High Density Collections

Published April 21, 2022
Updated May. 13, 2022

With eight libraries across four campuses, the ASU Library provides students and faculty access to millions of information resources and world-class collections to further study and research. As the way people use libraries changes, the ASU Library is adapting and changing to how and where books are stored.

ASU’s largest library, Hayden Library was built in 1966 and by 2017 was ready for a renovation to reimagine library spaces. “Changing needs for public spaces in Hayden Library led to a design process that ultimately created a more flexible, user-centered approach to developing inclusive, high-quality print collections available for ASU students and scholars to browse and explore,” said Shari Laster, Head of Open Stack Collections. “By utilizing our local storage capacity, we are able to quickly deliver books and other resources that may no longer fit on our shelves to patrons on request."

A person driving a forklift in a warehouse
Cosmo Anaya operates a forklift to retrieve requested materials at HDC. Shelves at HDC are over 30 feet high and each aisle is nearly 60 feet long.

When searching the ASU Library OneSearch, patrons may find materials located at “High Density Storage Collections Stacks” and wonder where and what that might be. Located on the Polytechnic campus, High Density Collections (also known as “HDC” for short), is an awe-inspiring storage facility and hub of activity that connects patrons with books and other requested materials, in both physical and digital formats.

Each book has its place

As the number of books and materials have grown to support students and faculty, so have the ways libraries store and process requests for materials. Completed in 2003 and expanded in 2017, HDC holds over two million books and materials and counting kept at a cool 50 degrees with 30 percent humidity. 

A person driving a forklift in a warehouse with aisles of book stacks

“Libraries created these kinds of closed storage facilities because collections continue to grow while the library buildings remain the same size,” said Laster.

HDC is a place where books can live their best life. “Keeping the books at a constant temperature prevents deterioration from seasonal cycling, from changes that books go through on a typical library shelf from winter to summer,” said Suzy Morgan, Conservator with the ASU Library. "Books stored in the cool and stable storage environment of HDC can have a lifespan up to four times longer than if the same materials were stored on traditional library shelves."

Thermometer showing temperature of warehouse

It takes a team 

"Everyone on our staff contributes to helping fill requests for materials. From printing out pull slips, to going up and down on the fork lift to retrieve items, to scanning an article or preparing books for loans, it takes a team effort to fill patron requests quickly and accurately,” said Mark Prestegard, Manager of HDC. “We process over 1,500 requests each month, and each request may be handled by two or three team members."

Books stored at HDC have their own unique marking known as a storage location identifier that tells staff exactly where to find it in the cold cavernous warehouse. With each shelf over 30 feet high, it would be nearly impossible to find anything without knowing the module, range, shelf, and position. Books at HDC are organized by size to help ensure as many books as possible can efficiently fit into the module’s shelves. 

"When you find materials located in the HDC Stacks, you can request to have the physical book sent to your campus library, or have an article or chapter scanned and sent to you digitally," said Prestegard. “Books are typically delivered to campus libraries within one business day, and depending on the time of day you place your request, a scanned article or chapter can reach you in hours.” 

Stacks of books on shelves

Supporting the needs of current and future patrons

Collections at HDC will continue to expand as more materials are added into the ASU Library’s collections. The next time you’re browsing the ASU Library catalog and come across materials in High Density Storage Collections Stacks, imagine the journey your book or scanned chapter now makes from its place on the shelf to your hands.