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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2005

[Board accepted]

And Then There Was One: Moving and Merging Three Health Science Library Collections

Mary Hitchcock
Information Resources Librarian
Ebling Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rhonda Sager
User Services Coordinator
Ebling Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Julie Schneider
Information Resources Coordinator
Ebling Library
University of Wisconsin-Madison


Over a four-week period in May and June of 2004, the three collections of the Middleton Health Sciences Library, the Powers Pharmacy Library, and the Weston Clinical Sciences Center Library were merged and moved into the newly constructed Health Sciences Learning Center as the Ebling Library. The planning and preliminary work to merge and move a collection can be an extremely exciting time or a frightening experience for staff depending on many factors. It is hoped that others planning for a move can learn from the processes that worked for us and avoid the problems that made the experience more difficult than it needed to be. The proof is in the outcome. The Ebling Library on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus is a beautiful, vibrant facility that is sought out by faculty, staff, and students because of its outstanding service, comfortable surroundings, unique historical and special collections, and its robust health and biomedical collection of books, journals, and other formats.


Planning for the move began in earnest in 2002. There was an immediate recognition of the broad impact of the move on library staff, faculty and researchers, and the campus community as a whole. Library administration formed four major committees that would separately address move issues in the areas of: Collection Preparation, Technology Planning, Service Integration, and Public Relations. The chairs of the four committees met on a regular basis as a Steering Committee. These committees' activities, agendas and project updates were shared with both internal and campus library staff as well as the library's patron groups.

The Collection Preparation Committee began meeting in May of 2002 and included staff members from a variety of departments: Technical Services, Circulation, Interlibrary Loan, and Reference. While the vast majority of tasks in preparing the collection were being done by the Technical Services staff, it was important to include staff from across the library that would be immediately impacted by collection changes to assure constant communication and staff feedback. Also, by including members from other departments, they would be able to communicate the changes made and provide alternative access points to patrons.

Collection Assessment

A list of collection formats and locations was one of the first steps taken for each of the three libraries. The following collection formats and locations were identified:

For each of the formats, an assessment and preparation plan was created. This was an important and necessary step to identify and prioritize any physical work that needed to be accomplished and to project the number of staff hours each task would take to complete.

By the end of 2002, the floor plans of the library portion of the building were distributed which identified the number of and placement of shelving units. The shelving units were chosen early in 2003 which gave staff the opportunity to accurately determine linear feet of shelving available in each section of the building. In examining and collecting data on collections in each library, volume counts and linear feet of space required for each collection format was compiled providing the opportunity to tentatively plan for the arrangement and location of each collection format. Projects could then be better planned and prioritized.

Each of the three libraries contained a reference and a reserve collection. These collections were catalogued in National Library of Medicine (NLM) classification scheme and each were created and handled similarly. There was a tremendous amount of duplication in these two collection types among the three libraries but librarians decided that the duplicates in these collections would remain until immediately after the move because of the immediate need for these materials by library patrons.

It was decided that little would be done to the audiovisual and pamphlet collections before the move. In fact, the pamphlets were merely boxed early in 2004 and assessment and processing of those materials is still a project for the future. There was a minimal amount of assessment of the audiovisual materials and some withdrawals were made of duplicate and out-of-date items. Each item was also evaluated for its continued usability and whether it could be safely moved without damage.

The indexes were in only one library and they had not been assessed for many years; there were many titles that had been replaced by electronic substitutes. Those titles that had a stable electronic version were withdrawn or relocated to another library on campus or to campus storage. The remaining indexes were bound as needed and evaluated to ensure they could to be moved with no damage.

One of the libraries had a small collection of directories that had been kept separate because many of them could not be circulated due to licensing restrictions. In the three health science libraries, the journal and regular monograph collections circulated so it was necessary to exclude directories from those collections. Staff decided early in the move preparation that journals would not circulate in the new library so it was possible to reclassify the directories as journals. Each title was assessed as to whether it would be retained, reclassified, or relocated to the journal collection while in the old buildings.

Government documents were held in only one of the libraries and items were catalogued for the journal, monograph, or SuDoc collection. The documents that had been catalogued with SuDoc numbers were assessed for currency and condition. If titles were found on the discard lists, they were processed and withdrawn from the collection based on campus policies associated with government documents. Those items that were obviously created to assist consumers in dealing with health information remained as SuDoc items. Some of the items were reclassified as journals or monographs depending on their client focus.

Each of the three libraries had its own monograph collection and, because the materials had been catalogued using the popular classification scheme at the time, the collections consisted of materials that were catalogued using Cutter, Library of Congress (LC), or National Library of Medicine (NLM) classifications. Because of the similarities between LC and NLM classifications, patrons have little difficulty in locating items in each scheme. In discussions with circulation and reference staff, it was determined that patrons had a lot of difficulty in understanding and finding the materials in the Cutter collection. It was decided that all of the titles in the Cutter collection would have to be reclassified to NLM prior to the move, and that the LC materials would be reclassified to NLM after we were in the new building to maintain consistency throughout.

The historical and special collections were being moved by a specialty moving company prior to any other collection. The major focus of work in preparing these materials was to guarantee they could be moved without damage. This necessitated assessment work of each title and many of the volumes were boxed in acid-free preservation material. Those volumes which range in copyright date from 1492 to 1914 were also catalogued under different classification schemes; however, it was decided that this reclassification could be undertaken after the move into the new facility.

Journal Collection Preparation

It was fairly obvious early in the discussions by Technical Services staff and the members of the Collection Preparation Committee that the bulk of the efforts to prepare the collection for the move and merge centered on the journal collections of the three libraries.

The three libraries had a combined journal title count of over 9,000 titles. The Collection Development Officer of the library assessed each title individually and decided whether the title was to be retained or withdrawn. Some of the titles had duplication across the three libraries and those volumes were withdrawn. Others had duplication between the health science libraries and the other libraries on campus. In those situations, a decision was made between campus librarians as to which library would become the archival print copy for the campus and the duplicate could then be withdrawn. The assessment process, combined with a shelf count and condition evaluation, unearthed a few new titles that were not found anywhere in the cataloging records. It also brought to light many problems in cataloging which were then corrected. This process of evaluation took over a year to complete.

Each library had a current and an archival journal collection and defined the years and arrangement of their current collection differently. Since the Middleton journal collection was far bigger than the other two collections, it was decided that all of the journals would follow the same classification scheme as the Middleton collection. The Pharmacy Library, the smallest of the three libraries, had been part of the health sciences libraries only since 1997. Prior to that, they were under a different library administration and their collection had been catalogued differently than the Middleton Health Sciences Library collection. The Weston Clinical Sciences Center Library (CSC) was arranged alphabetically. The Powers Pharmacy Library journal collection was catalogued and arranged under a different classification scheme from the one at the Middleton Library. The Middleton Library's collection was split into two holding areas: the current journals, 1997 to present, were located alphabetically on the second floor, while any journal prior to 1997 was located in the basement by NLM classification. Decisions to move titles into storage or among the three libraries were based entirely on usage statistics.

Periods of time were set aside when all Technical Services and other library staff reclassified, labeled, and shifted all of the journals in the Pharmacy and CSC libraries. The tasks in each library took approximately a week to complete; however, in retrospect, it was time well spent to have each collection consistent with the main collection. Finally, many of the journal issues that were unbound, peg bound, or in poor condition, particularly those in the basement storage areas, had preservation techniques applied or were bound.

One team of the Technical Services staff worked on binding or boxing as many loose or fragile issues as possible. As a result of their efforts, nearly 98% of the journal collection was bound prior to the move of the library collection. In order to achieve this figure, between 1,500 and 2,000 volumes were processed for binding every two weeks and this effort continued for nearly 18 months.

Another team worked solely on processing the materials in the basement and neighboring building's storage area. Many of the items were in a fragile condition and needed to be boxed rather than bound. Also, a large section of unknown and uncatalogued titles were found in the storage area. As each title was matched against the master assessment list, the volumes were evaluated for binding or boxing and were then moved into the main collection. This required the main journal collection of the Middleton Health Sciences Library be shifted numerous times to create space for these "new" incoming titles.

The final team working on journals in the Technical Services unit was a team of one individual that was in charge of withdrawing journal issues and trying to find other libraries that wanted these withdrawn materials. Withdrawn journals were offered to other institutions and vendors via mailing lists and consortia contacts.

A mailing list, "Backmed", sponsored by Swets, which allows its subscribers to post and request health science related materials, was our primary method used to advertise and donate journals no longer needed by our institution. The consortia used for the serial withdrawal project were primarily regional members, specifically the Council of University of Wisconsin Libraries (CUWL) and the Committee for Institutional Cooperation (CIC or the Big Ten). We offered our materials to these institutions free of charge. To ensure a higher "adoption" to disposal ratio, a small set of commercial vendors who specialized in medical journals also received the weekly lists of materials. The postings noted the titles and specific holdings of materials available. Individuals making requests could have these materials free of charge, however, they had to agree to reimburse postage for shipping from our library or provide a UPS or FedEx account number for transport. Vendors had to offer bids for the materials in addition to covering shipping costs.

A total of 490 titles, consisting of 10,203 volumes, were withdrawn from the collection. Over 50% of these items were requested by other libraries within the state and across the country, some went to institutions in Canada. Relationships with librarians throughout the country developed as we attempted to find homes for these journals, rather than discard them.

Communication to Patrons

It was important to library staff and administration that changes to the collection throughout the preparation process was communicated to library patrons on a regular basis. Many significant changes were made that impacted the patrons' ability to locate and access parts of the collection. The Public Relations Committee worked regularly on newsletter and e-mail announcements about move projects. Temporary signage was placed throughout the libraries to explain shifts and other changes in the collection. For over a year the Health Sciences Library provided move and merger updates to the campus and community detailing the merger progress and collection changes.

The Move Itself

The last week in May a moving company which specialized in library moves, based in Chicago, was commissioned to move the historical and special collections. This company was very experienced with moving library collections; therefore the amount of pre-planning by library staff for the actual move was minimal. Arrangement, tagging, and transportation were coordinated by this company along with a limited number of library staff to ensure both security and care of these rare materials.

The bulk of the general collection was scheduled to move the first three weeks of June by a standard moving company in the area that had little experience in moving library collections. They provided no input or assistance in pre-preparation of the collection for the move. Knowing the type of moving carts that the company provided, the staff developed a plan and schedule for moving each collection type in each of the libraries.

One important consideration in the scheduling of the moves for each collection type in each library was the need for pre-existing shelves that could be reused. In order to minimize the cost of purchasing shelving for the new facility, an inventory of pre-existing shelving that would fit in the new units was done. It was found that many of the pre-existing shelves would work in the new shelving units but they were scattered throughout the collection. As we needed to remove materials and then disassemble shelves for installation in the new building, we had to carefully organize the order of when each collection would be moved. It was decided that the newly purchased shelves would be placed in the area where journals would reside in the new building. For that reason, we needed to move the journals from all three libraries prior to moving the rest of the collection.

We created a plan for marking the shelves in the new building so that journals could be moved easily. In order to do this, we made a comprehensive list of all journal titles and indicated their location (which library they were coming from), the number of linear inches that each title took, and whether it was a current title that would require growth space. Each title name was then printed out onto perforated cardboard strips along with the measurement and a unique identifier number. These strips were placed on the existing shelving units. A duplicate set of these strips was created to be placed on the new shelves. Small orange adhesive dots were placed at the beginning of each new title. Two staff members then spent the weekend prior to the move placing these strips on the shelves based on the linear inches required and the space needed for growth. This system allowed journals to be moved in any order from any library and placed accurately on the shelves without concern for call numbers or titles. The system worked very well with only minor shifts needed in a couple of areas to account for inaccurate measurements.


Faculty, who had been conveniently located next to one of the original three libraries, were greatly concerned about the move, their ability to quickly access information, and to use services. The library offered some new services to assist patrons during this tumultuous time. Services included improved access to online library collections, An improved document delivery service (Library Express), and a new service called Pull and Hold.

The Library Express service provided faculty, staff, and students with the opportunity to request articles to be delivered to their desktop computer. Many of these requests were filled the same day that they were requested. Patrons used Pull and Hold to request that any materials in the library be pulled ahead of time and held at the service desk for their convenience. This became a very popular service for busy clinicians and researchers that wanted to have materials available and quickly accessible when they came into the library. The campus also initiated a book retrieval service that allowed patrons to request a book from any library on campus, have it pulled from the shelf, and sent over to any other library on campus. All of these services proved to be popular and gave our patrons extended access to the resources of the new Ebling Library.

The monograph collection moved very smoothly as well using similar methods employed for the journal collection. The fact that the entire library collection moved in only eight days is testament to having a well thought out and organized plan. It is important to start planning for any library move as early as possible. There is a lot that needs to be done to prepare a collection and each task tends to take longer than anticipated. Good planning and strong administrative support for projects, along with communication to staff and faculty, can make the task of moving as painless as possible.

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