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Massive shelving inside Verona Shelving Facility.

It’s a giant concrete warehouse with one million inches of space over 10,000 square feet. It has floor-to ceiling compact and movable shelving, cherry-picker included, a high-tech H-VAC system, and it required two decades of planning. Simply put, the University of Wisconsin—Madison Libraries’ Verona Shelving Facility is a work of art.

“It isn’t just a box,” says Heather Weltin, Facilitator for Cooperative Sharing & Storage at UW—Madison. “This is a masterpiece.”

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Shelving at Verona.

After breaking ground in August of 2013, the Verona Shelving Facility opened officially in October 2014. Located at the Materials Distribution Services (MDS) building, adjacent to SWAP, the high-density shelving facility, Weltin says, is a game-changer when it comes to UW Library operations.

“The great thing about a high-density facility like Verona, and especially if we got another similar facility in the future, is what it allows us to do with space,” Weltin notes. “We can take spaces in our libraries and make them more relevant for use by researchers and students. The WisCel labs (Wisconsin Collaborative for Enhanced Learning) are good examples. We can take the lesser used materials to our shelving facility, and make space for great collaborative partnerships across campus.”

Moving all those materials, however, is no easy task. Since its opening, two full-time staffers, Rob Klecker and Chrissy Hursh, have taken on a fast-paced and intense training schedule to get Verona operations up and running.

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Verona staff: Rob Klecker and Chrissy Hursh.

“The sheer volume of what comes through here is amazing,” Klecker says. “It’s also amazing what we can get done in a day. There’s two of us out here and we’re getting a couple thousand books a day out on the shelves.”

Unlike a traditional library, books are not shelved according to subject, content, or by volume. Instead, it’s all about size. Books are trucked to Verona on carts, and then sorted by size, placed into cardboard trays, bar-coded, and shelved. Completely filled, Verona is expected to hold over a million volumes. Right now, Klecker and Hursh are quickly working to sort and shelve as many books as possible before the facility’s content becomes available for borrowing in February.

“We have a great opportunity to develop work practices to fit our specific needs, and experiment with different ways of arranging work. We’ll get faster and more efficient at processing materials,” Hursh says. “Once we go live it will be interesting to see how many borrowing requests we get.”

Library staff tour Verona.
Library staff tour Verona.

Once the facility opens to content to borrowing requests, the LAS (Library Archival System) software, by Generation Fifth, helps locates where a book is shelved. Klecker and Hursh then use a cherry picker to retrieve or move the books and trays.

While the $2.5M facility is new to the UW Libraries, Vice Provost for Libraries Ed Van Gemert notes that UW is somewhat late to the high-density facility game. But, he says, better late than never.

“We’ve been fortunate to have partnerships with other organizations, like CIC, or universities, like Iowa and Iowa State, that have helped the storage of resources like serials,” Van Gemert explains. “But Verona will help bump us into that more competitive level when it comes to how we house our resources, and how we streamline the process for providing them to our users.”

The Verona Shelving Facility is expected to take several years to fill. Over the next few years, the UW Libraries face the difficult task of repurposing space and resources through consolidation efforts. Weltin and Van Gemert say Verona is a critical stepping stone during that process: helping to not only maintain, but improve, high quality resources and services provided by the UW Libraries.

“The impact Verona will have on campus and research will be significant,” Weltin says. “Verona will allow us to keep the materials we have, be good stewards of those materials, keep them safe, protected, and usable. But it also allows us to continue collecting the materials that we need to be a relevant and competitive institution.”