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High Density Library holds sixty per cent of U of C’s books

By Nikayla Goddard, January 20 2020 —

The University of Calgary’s hidden gem lies 20 minutes north on the Spy Hill Campus. The High Density Library (HDL) is home to sixty per cent of the U of C’s collections, over 2.4 million volumes. 

The HDL houses all books older than 10 years that haven’t been circulated in the past 5 years, in addition to duplicates, the Arctic Institute of North America collection and over 11 million microfiche — tiny film strips which have to be magnified to be read — and film. This still leaves over 600,000 books and journals at the Taylor Family Digital Library (TFDL) on campus that are recent titles or titles that are more frequently circulated. 

Claudette Cloutier, associate university librarian at the HDL, shared during a tour that the HDL was opened slightly before the TFDL in July of 2010 following the need for long-term storage of collections and the proper funding falling into place. 

Cloutier said when the HDL was built in 2010 they figured they wouldn’t fill capacity for about 25 years. But in August 2016, negotiations began to expand the HDL as it filled quicker than expected, and they managed to secure federal funding for the expansion, which was then completed in April of 2018. The HDL was built to hold about 1.5 million volumes before this expansion, and thanks to $30 million from the Strategic Innovation Fund it can now hold another 1.5 million volumes.

HDL’s purpose becomes clear when you see the sheer size of the shelves inside the bays — 30 foot shelves accessible by a cherry picker store the 2.4 million volumes in an organized, regimented fashion. 

“One of the great things about the HDL is that it will preserve the material,” added Cloutier. “So, it’s a place to live – it’s continually evolving and expanding.”

The books are also stored in a highly-controlled environment that accounts for all of the factors that go into optimizing the preservation of books — acid free trays, humidity and temperature control and LED lights to reduce UV radiation.

Blair Cherniawsky, who has been the HDL manager for 38 years, says that at the height of a busy season, around 120 daily requests may be filed from the HDL, otherwise the daily average is between 80-100 requests. 

While the HDL is not a place to browse for books given the nature of its storage, many unique items can be requested from the facility to assist students and staff in research, papers and just for personal reading. If a request is filed the day before, it makes it to the TFDL by noon the next day, making it a viable option for viewing rarer materials. 

For information on the HDL and filing requests, check out their website and check out the Gauntlet’s video of the tour.

Video by Cole McCracken

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