Washington University Libraries Staff Develop New Space Management Tool

Staff members at the Washington University Libraries are using mapping technology to solve the inevitable space-crunch problems that arise from growing physical collections.

Bill Winston, GIS analyst with Data Services, collects information in the stacks of John M. Olin Library.

In response to the need for a mechanism that would allow the University Libraries to visualize the current configuration of collections and evaluate available space, a group of library personnel from Data Services and Collections Services came together to create a solution. The team proposed the development of a collections space visualization and management tool that would enable library staff to view and manage space designated for collection storage. The tool would also make it possible for staff to model potential new collection configurations. 

Early in 2019, the group received funding for its proposal through the University Libraries’ Innovation Program. The program supports inventive staff projects that improve library systems and services.  

Over the past several months, the team has been working to develop the tool, which they envision as a web-based application, with 3D-viewing capabilities, that can be easily maintained by staff. They hope to use it to locate over-crowded and vacant space within the University Libraries and to identify subject area locations. The tool would also aid the Libraries in planning for the future by measuring collection growth over time, improving volume estimates for moving projects, and modeling the impact of collection changes.  

“This project has been a fun collaboration between library units that don’t often get a chance to work together,” GIS programmer Mollie Webb says. “Our hope is that the resulting application will become a tool that’s part of the everyday technology ecosystem here at the University Libraries.” 

Mollie Webb, GIS programmer, gathers data for the space management project in Olin Library.

Phase one of the project, which is now complete, involved testing methods of data-gathering related to library space. Those methods included measuring shelves by hand with a tape measure and evaluating shelf space with a depth-sensing camera. Additionally, a handheld laser scanner was used to collect geospatial data on Level 3 of Olin Library. The scanner created a 3D-model of shelving on that level.  

During the first stage of the project, the team also generated a phased development plan. Phase two of the initiative is now taking place, as the team evaluates the collected data, develops workflows, and creates query and reporting mechanisms. They’re also exploring the possibility of using the application in departmental and distributed libraries across the University Libraries system.  




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