Previous   Contents   Next
Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2005

URLs in this document have been updated. Links enclosed in {curly brackets} have been changed. If a replacement link was located, the new URL was added and the link is active; if a new site could not be identified, the broken link was removed.

[Board accepted]

The Closing of the LSU Chemistry Library

William W. Armstrong
Chemistry Librarian
Louisiana State University
Baton Rouge, Louisiana


Chemistry libraries are in transition these days. There are a variety of reasons, results, and end stages for these transitions. I discuss the specifics of one such transition resulting from the decision to close the LSU Chemistry Library in the Spring of 2005. I will further discuss the reasons for the move, the logistics and practicalities involved in effecting the move, and some of the pros and cons resulting from the change along with the challenges that lie ahead.


In the Spring of 2005 the LSU Chemistry Library closed its doors permanently, merging its collections with those of the main library on the LSU campus. This paper will discuss the reasons for the move as well as the logistics and practicalities involved in effecting the move. In addition, I will examine some of the pros and cons resulting from the change along with the challenges that lie ahead.

Description of Setting

The LSU Chemistry Library was situated on the main campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, with a student enrollment of around 30,000. The library historically has been closely associated with the Chemistry Department, both in support and proximity. Whenever and wherever the department moved, the library followed. The most recent move occurred in 1977 and resulted in locating the library on the third floor of the newly constructed Virginia Rice Williams Hall. The library occupied the entire third floor of Williams (the top floor); the first floor contained two large lecture halls while the second floor held multiple, smaller classrooms. Williams Hall itself was encompassed in a group of buildings including the Life Sciences Building, Arthur H. Choppin Hall (housing the Chemistry Department), and the Fred C. Frey Computing Services Building, thereby positioning the library to serve the College of Basic Sciences.

The Chemistry Library also contained a computer lab run by Information Technology Services (located in the adjacent Fred C. Frey building) that contained about 50 computers and a print station. The lab was built in 1998, replacing many of the index tables holding such works as Chemical Abstracts and Beilstein. These collections were located to another part of the library with a more compact arrangement. This change in space allocation occurred at a time when electronic formats were beginning to be offered for some of the major indexes, including Chemical Abstracts, so the timing for a peaceful and productive coexistence of the two facilities was very good despite the fact that LSU Libraries was not yet in a position to provide unfettered access to some of these databases. Over the years, more electronic resources were developed and LSU Libraries was able to acquire items such as SciFinder Scholar and numerous electronic journals. This made the the combination of computer lab and library an especially effective relationship.

Use of the Library

The Chemistry Library enjoyed heavy use by undergraduate and graduate students. As more electronic resources became available faculty visits began to decline, but the physical library remained critical for research needs in non-electronic formats, for journals and reference works used by faculty and students alike. Students would often gather in the library before and after classes to work on group projects or study. Graduate students used the library heavily for research throughout the year, holidays included. The location of the computer lab also proved ideal for both faculty and students. Faculty had chemistry-specific software loaded in the workstations allowing students to work on chemistry assignments, and would meet students in the lab for instruction or help with assignments. The location of chemistry literature and data resources in print format combined with the electronic databases, e-journals, and chemistry software made an ideal research and study setup. In addition, the location of virtually all of the Chemistry Library's subject guides and information offering help with existing resources on its web site further enhanced the symbiotic relationship of the virtual to the physical, the computer lab with the library.

Decision to Move -- Background

In recent years, the Chemistry Department has seen a steady increase in enrollment, resulting in an urgent need for more space, particularly for organic chemistry labs. Though an entire new building for the department would suit growing needs best, the money simply has not been available. A search was made for a reasonable existing location that could be converted into labs without too great an expense; the best location would not require students and faculty to have to walk great distances from current offices and facilities. The only suitable space turned out to be Williams Hall. The Chemistry Department received permission to convert the second floor of Williams (consisting at the time of multiple small classrooms) into organic chemistry labs. The location was good, standing immediately adjacent to Choppin -- the building housing Chemistry -- with the added benefit of leaving the library intact. Plans were drawn up and arrangements began to be made.

In early January 2005, however, contractors for the renovation project announced they would have to close the entire building for much, if not all of the duration of the construction process. This forced a major decision by the library, with limited options. It could either 1) close the library during the construction, leaving its materials in place, but inaccessible; 2) move the collection temporarily to another location, where it would be made available to patrons but relocated to its former home following construction; or 3) move its collection permanently to the main library, Middleton Library, located some distance away from its constituency. Given the amount of work involved in moving a major collection, the only sensible decision under the circumstances was to relocate the collection permanently and close the Chemistry Library in Williams Hall. The decision was made by the Deans of the appropriate colleges and the library was given until May 23 to vacate the premises as the contractors were to begin work immediately thereafter.

Planning for the Physical Move

With the Spring Semester just getting underway and a short deadline ahead, the LSU Libraries administration, along with the staffs of both the main library and the Chemistry Library, began planning for the move. Among the things to consider and plan for were the following: who would do the packing, what kind of schedule was needed to finish on time; who would pick up and deliver the books. Work needed to be coordinated between the Chemistry Library and the Middleton Library; space needed to be created in the main library to house the collection, shelves constructed; locations for the various parts of the collection had to be determined and catalog records needed to be changed; and above all, service needed to be maintained throughout the process.

It was decided that the physical moving of the collection would be handled by a unit of Facility Services, the department on campus responsible for physical plant maintenance and much in-house moving, though special pickup and delivery crews would be hired for each day on which such work would occur. LSU Libraries would use its student workers from both the main library and the Chemistry Library for the packing and unpacking of books, as well as the dismantling and reassembly of the shelves; extra workers would likely need to be hired. Because of a lack of extra shelving, the shelves from the Chemistry Library would be needed to house the books in Middleton, meaning that the shelves would have to be dismantled and moved at the same time as the books and then reassembled before the books could be reshelved. A temporary shelving area was designated on the fourth floor of Middleton (where the rest of the sciences were and where the bulk of the chemistry collection would be relocated) to house the books and bound journals as they arrived until such time as they could be integrated into the rest of the collection on that floor.1

Physical Relocation of Items -- the Plan

One of the first steps would be to try and thin out the collection and determine which items could be moved first. Reports would be run to determine duplicates contained in both the Middleton and Chemistry collections. Chemistry Library staff were to gather Chemistry copies and ship them to Middleton where they would be evaluated and kept or discarded based on the following criteria: age, condition, and use. Most duplicates wound up being discarded with the better copy retained. Records of discarded items would be removed, while those of kept items would be altered manually to reflect their new location.

We also wanted to isolate any titles that could be moved immediately. The package of American Chemical Society (ACS) journals, consisting of 33 titles, was an ideal candidate, as we subscribed to the electronic versions of both the current and archive volumes, enabling us to offer the entire run of each of these titles to patrons at their desktops. Twenty-nine of these had a print counterpart in the Chemistry Library and so were prime candidates for compact shelving. We could quickly isolate and relocate this set, thereby diminishing the number of journals for transfer to regular stacks in Middleton during the major portion of the move. This would also have the added benefit of saving space in crucial areas.

The decision was made to move all journals first. These constituted the bulk of the collection, and many were available online; thus, this portion of the move would be the least disruptive for patrons. The circulating books would go next, followed by special collections such as Beilstein, Landolt-Börnstein, Sadtler, and Chemical Abstracts. Reference and reserve books would go last to avoid major disruptions to the students at inappropriate times, as these would likely be needed by students up until the end of the semester.

The reference collection would need to be weeded with various parts reassigned by the chemistry librarian due to a lack of space in the Reference Department of the main library. To aid in this procedure, reports were run on the reference collection that included usage statistics. This, along with a personal knowledge of the use and importance of many of the various works, helped the chemistry librarian determine which would need to be placed in Middleton Reference and which would have to be relocated to the fourth floor stacks with the rest of the collection. In the end, a small core of heavily used works were selected for the reference collection, while the rest were assigned to the stacks, but with most receiving a non-circulating code that would also reflect this status on the public side of the catalog.

Schedule for Packing up Library

The above plan was then promptly set in motion in early February 2005. One of the first courses of action was to stop all shipment of new journals to the Chemistry Library and send our current periodicals to Middleton for shelving in the Current Newspapers/Periodicals Room. Concurrently, we packed and transported all bound ACS journals2 to Middleton for relocation to compact storage in the basement, as access to the full run of these was provided online. To avoid shelving confusion in the future, staff relabled the spines of all volumes so destined with their new location before packing and shipping. Once the ACS titles had been shipped to Middleton, we packed and shipped all duplicates that had been identified via reports run on the online catalog system. Next, we identified any other journal titles for which we provided online coverage, and transferred what we could of these titles as well to compact3. The records for all of these were modified manually to reflect new locations.

The above actions helped to weed the collection in a fast and efficient manner, allowing the rest of the content to be handled consistently. The remainder of the collection was then to be packed and shipped according to the schedule previously discussed. All remaining journal runs would be packed first, followed by the circulating books, then special collections, followed last by reference and reserves, as the students would still need these through the final exam period4. The library was scheduled to close its doors to patrons immediately following the last final exam in mid-May, with the following week spent packing and shipping the Reference and Reserve books and cleaning out any remaining odds and ends.

Once duplicates were identified, boxed, and shipped to Middleton, and the ACS titles transferred to compact shelving, we were ready to begin wholesale packing of the rest of the Chemistry Library contents in the order described above. Based on the time required to box the ACS journal collection, a spreadsheet was created dividing the contents of the library in a systematic manner according to the physical location of the contents and the order for boxing and shipping of the materials. This enabled the chemistry librarian to determine the amount of material left to box, how much had to be boxed each week, and how many trips would have to be made to complete the task in the remaining time allotted. Once a comprehensive schedule was completed, work began on the actual packing. This was done by regular Chemistry Library student workers along with additional student worker help provided by the main library. The schedule was one that could be maintained without too much difficulty, still allowing the staff to provide good service to the library's patrons.

Work began on the remainder of the Chemistry Library collection in March according to the schedule drawn up. As work progressed, more accurate assessments could be made as to the average number of books packed to a box, and the number of boxes required to pack a particular number of shelves. Based on new numbers, the master schedule was revised accordingly. By the time the library move had been completed, a total of 4,382 boxes had been packed, shipped, unpacked, and reshelved, all on schedule.

There were potential problems along the way that could have caused logjams in the workflow at any stage, so we needed to keep an eye out for these. Most of these centered around boxes and student workers. An adequate supply of both needed to be on hand at the appropriate times, or work would stop. Timing was critical. We reused the boxes as much as we could, meaning books had to be unboxed and the empty boxes returned quickly. So we always needed extra on hand at the Chemistry Library side, more than would be needed for any particular delivery, so that work would not stop while one supply was being delivered. Also, there was a certain amount of attrition that occurred, as the boxes could only withstand so many trips. Usually two or three was about average, per box. The optimal number of boxes to have in circulation at any given time was about 300-400, reflecting our timing and packing schedule5. Having an adequate supply of student workers was also important, and a shortage or absence of these at the wrong time can also cause a work stoppage. Ideally, the supply of workers from which one can draw should always be larger than the number needed at any given time, as students' schedules only sometimes coincide with the times they are needed to work.

The packing schedule worked out very well, thanks to the cooperation and coordination on both sides of the move. The circulation and technical services staffs at Middleton did an excellent job of unpacking and relocating the various incoming materials in a very efficient manner, so that there was an average turnaround time of two to three days from the time the materials were picked up and delivered to the time they were available to patrons on their new, temporary shelves in Middleton. This fast turnaround was crucial to providing our patrons with the materials they needed in a timely fashion. Also important to our patrons was being kept informed of the schedule and location of works throughout the move, as the bulk of the catalog records were not changed until after the physical relocation of the collection. To help towards this end, the Chemistry Library provided web pages related to the move, detailing what was to be moved and when. This included a complete list of all the Chemistry Library's journal holdings with specific dates of boxing, shipping, and updates as to their availability in their new, temporary location in Middleton.

Modification of Records

Moving the entire collection of a branch library into an existing central library is difficult; yet there remains, of course, the equally daunting aspects of the records modifications that must take place within the online catalog for the move to be complete and for patrons to find and use the collection. The changes required for this part of the move took place in three stages. The first involved a manual change of the records of duplicates identified through reports and transferred to Middleton for examination and ultimately discarding or relocation to compact or regular stacks. The second stage made use of a script on the Unix side of the catalog for a batch change of the records of the ACS journals spoken of earlier. This also provided a test case for the mass conversion of all remaining records -- the bulk of the collection -- that would take place in the third and final stage of the transfer of titles from one location to another.

The complete conversion of all records proved to be a complex task, one requiring consultation and advise from SIRSI, the producer of the Libraries' online catalog software. Without such advice, the risk of missing hidden fields tied to the Chemistry Library would be quite high. As already mentioned, the ACS set of journals was the first group of records to be changed and provided a good test case for the remainder of the records to be changed later. A script was written by the LOUIS staff6 to effect the necessary changes based on information obtained from SIRSI. First, the MARC holdings records had to be extracted from the database. The library and home location was then changed and the MARC holdings records removed from the database, after which the modified MARC holdings records were then reloaded. Next, the serial distribution records had to be changed, followed by the acquisition distribution records. At this point, a "Move Collection" report was run to move items from CHEMISTRY to MIDL-MAIN. For those items not moved in this report, the library was changed in the item and call number records. After this, a check was run for anything that might have been missed.

The next batch involved the remainder of the Chemistry Library records. These were not modified until mid-May after the library had officially closed its doors to patrons and the collections had been physically moved. This script was considerably more complex, due to the diversity of materials and final changes to be made across the board. As with the ACS script, the one written and run in this case was tested multiple times on the test server to ensure it would run smoothly and all changes would be made with no unpleasant surprises. Once the library staff and the LOUIS staff were confident of success, the script was run on the remainder of the Chemistry Library records.

The action of this final script entailed first running a "Remove Reserve Records" report to eliminate this class of records. Then, as with the ACS records, the MARC holdings records were extracted from the database and the library and home location changed. The MARC holdings records were then removed from the database, followed by the reloading of the modified MARC holdings records. Next, the library was changed in the serial control records, followed by the modification of the serial distribution records and the acquisition distribution records. The library and home location of the journals were then changed. Next came the change in library for the charge, hold, bill, and user records. A "Move Collection Report" was then run to move items from CHEMISTRY to MIDL-MAIN. For those items not moved in this report, the library was changed in both item and call number records, followed by a change in the current location for items on reserve. After this, a check was run for anything that might have been missed. Upon completion of this last step, the keyword index was rebuilt. Workflows, the staff client, was used to receive items in transit to CHEMISTRY, and any scheduled reports that selected on CHEMISTRY were removed. The final step was to hide CHEMISTRY as a selection in iLink, the public interface to the database. The completion of this phase marked the semi-final transition stage of the Chemistry Library from independent branch library to integrated components of a larger, main library.

Changes and Challenges

I spoke of the "semi-final" stage of transition above for the Chemistry Library. As of this writing, everything has been relocated to Middleton, and all records modified to reflect the new reality. But there is still an aspect of the move which is not complete and that represents one of the challenges that will continue to face us for some time yet. This last task is the final and complete integration of the Chemistry Library collections into the titles already located in the Middleton stacks on the fourth floor. This final step is essential for patrons to be able to find what they are looking for in an efficient manner. As mentioned earlier, because of the short deadline involved in this move along with a shortage of shelving materials, shelving could be set up in a new location in Middleton only once it was broken down in Chemistry, with delivery of the books occurring at the same time. Consequently, all items had to be located in a hastily arranged "temporary shelving" area on the fourth floor, where the bulk of the collection was to be permanently located. This system worked very well in enabling the library to offer a very short time period in which any given work might be unavailable for use due to the move. But it also meant that permanent integration would have to be postponed. Due to the enormous scale of this integration into the prior-held contents of the fourth floor, completion of this stage is not expected until early summer of 2006. Once this stage has been concluded, we can say that the Chemistry Library move is complete.

Another challenge that lies ahead is a direct result of the radical change in the organizational scheme of the journals in the Chemistry Library versus that of Middleton. Journals were shelved in the Chemistry Library alphabetically according to title and all in one location, separated from other categories of works such as circulating books, reference, and indexes and abstracts. In Middleton, however, they are all shelved strictly according to call number and interspersed with monographs. The integration of the Chemistry Library journals within such an organizational scheme will require a big adjustment for faculty and students. There are pros and cons for both systems of organization, call number or alphabetical by title, but the Chemistry Library patrons were used to the title arrangement. As physical finding aids within the Chemistry Library, a list of all titles on any given row were provided at the end of each row, along with cross references for titles which might have changed over the years and thus which might actually be found under another name. With the new system, an online catalog search would have to be done every time a patron wished to look for a particular journal. To alleviate problems that might be encountered in this adjustment to a new system, the chemistry librarian made a list of the entire journal holdings, complete with call numbers and title cross-references available via the library's {web site}, and in addition made a {separate page} of current subscriptions in alphabetical arrangement with call numbers that could be printed for ease in locating the same items in Middleton. This obviated the necessity of always having to conduct an online catalog search -- which can be very difficult with certain serials -- and has helped ease the transition for our patrons from one library to the other.

The loss of the computer lab housed within the library has also posed a challenge, as there is no other conveniently located computer lab in the area. This has meant that faculty can no longer simply step next door to help students learn to use chemistry specialty software necessary for certain assignments. The library is no longer readily accessible as an impromptu teaching facility. There are other labs on campus, including in Middleton, not to mention the existence of teaching classrooms fully equipped with computers for instructors and students. But the location of these at a considerable physical distance from the faculty and students who might use them renders the new labs of far less practical value.

This loss of physical proximity to users represents perhaps the greatest change and the biggest challenge to the library users and to the library itself. The two main benefits of an independent branch library that exists in close physical proximity to its constituency is this proximity itself along with its smaller size due to the specialized nature of its collection. A library's staff can more easily develop close working relations with academic faculty and students when there are frequent interactions. And these are more liable to occur because of the proximity and ease of coming to the library. Also, because the specialized scope of the library has limited its size, the branch library can provide more personal services for faculty that might not be possible in a larger, more diverse library, simply because of size. The location and specialized nature of the library also provide for a logical and ideal meeting place for students whose common interests in chemistry or science bring them together outside of classes. Under such circumstances, the library becomes a study place, a place for working on group projects, a meeting place between faculty and students and library staff, and a place where everyone seems to know everyone else. It is a more personal place, hence a place people will more likely want to be. This all changes with a larger library that is comprehensive, having no isolated focus, and which is located some distance away from much of its constituency. The challenge that lies ahead is somehow to overcome this distance and the impersonal nature seemingly inherent to such an arrangement.

With few exceptions, the Chemistry and Biochemistry faculty have been very unhappy about the loss of their library, a loss necessitated by a growing university trying to expand within a limited space. There are, however, positive features of a larger, centralized library that might recommend the closure of a smaller, branch library beyond the sheer creation of needed space. These positive attributes and reasons lie primarily in the diverse collections of such larger libraries and the rise in interdisciplinary research at campuses across the country. LSU is no exception. As chemistry, biochemistry, physics, biological sciences, astronomy, materials science, and computer science, to name but a few, all begin to cross borders within the various research projects of multiple departments, it becomes increasingly important to offer a larger range of materials in one place. Such diverse collections extend beyond the scope of specialized branch libraries. And the proliferation of electronic versions of many library resources that can be offered remotely begins to bring the efficacy of even a larger centralized physical location into question.


The Chemistry Library's move, though somewhat traumatic, as all moves are, actually proceeded very smoothly, thanks to the planning, cooperation, and efficiency of all parties involved from both the branch and the main libraries and the patience of our patrons. There are adjustments to be made, but all participants have worked and will continue to work to make the move a positive one for both library and patrons. As discussed, there are pros and cons and challenges to be faced. But as long as one is aware of the challenges that lie ahead, one can make special efforts to meet them, efforts which may, however, require a bit of creativity as librarians continually strive to meet the informational needs of their patrons. But creativity is the name of the game in the rapidly evolving world of information and communication, and librarians must remain on the forefront.


1 The contents of Middleton Library's fourth floor did not comprise an independent science library, but simply housed those works whose call numbers fell into a particular range, unless they were designated as special categories. All reference works were housed on the first floor in the Reference Department, and all current serials were shelved in their own separate room on the first floor.

2 All the bound volumes of our print ACS journals represented 190 shelves worth, comprised of 3,681 individual pieces. It required 381 boxes to pack these.

3 Pickup and delivery of these items which we considered preliminary to the main move were handled by LSU Libraries' student workers with the library's regular library mail delivery truck.

4 These materials constituted the bulk of the Chemistry Library move; consequently, they would be picked up and delivered by Facility Services crews according to a schedule worked out by the chemistry librarian and coordinated by LSU Libraries' Facilities manager.

5 This would vary, of course, from institution to institution, as the work force, delivery crew, and time allowed for the move would likely be different.

6 LOUIS is the Louisiana Library Network and is responsible for implementing the Sirsi software for LSU Libraries and other academic institutions within this statewide consortium. Their offices and staff are located on the LSU-Baton Rouge campus.

Previous   Contents   Next

W3C 4.0