CRL in a Nutshell 3: "Bricks and Mortar"

Friday, March 20, 2015

The “CRL in a Nutshell” posts were originally written to give participants in the April 2015 Council of Voting Members meeting the basics about CRL, in a series of small doses.


Member library investment in CRL over the years has built not only a sizable, five million-volume collection of source materials for research, but an imposing physical edifice as well. A four-story,126,000 square foot building, of masonry construction, the CRL collections facility rests on 1.4 acres at 6050 South Kenwood Avenue in Hyde Park, Chicago, adjacent to the University of Chicago campus.  The facility was constructed in two modules, the first completed in 1983 and the second in 1992, at a total cost of $9.3 million. 

The building is the critical “envelope” for CRL collections.  Many of these collections, if lost, could never be replaced.  Consequently a significant portion of the member libraries’ investment each year goes into upgrading and improving the building.  (Normal maintenance and utility costs consume another significant portion of the budget.)  This investment largely ensures that the HVAC system provides temperature and humidity levels friendly to the paper and film materials that rest on the miles of compact and standard shelving that run throughout the collection zone.  This investment demonstrates CRL’s firm and enduring commitment to collections, and distinguishes CRL from most other national library organizations and consortia.

In the Google Maps street view the CRL building is almost entirely hidden by trees, but the satellite view (above) shows a “landlocked” CRL. It is surrounded by the University of Chicago campus on three sides, and bordered by a residential neighborhood to the south, and thus is not able to expand its footprint.  

This will limit future expansion of the CRL physical collections.  In recent years we have continued to accept collections on a selective basis, such as newspaper collections from Yale, UCLA and Princeton.  But otherwise CRL has been growing in ways that benefit member libraries without consuming precious storage space.  For example, CRL reaches beyond its own walls to afford scholars access to the extensive journal holdings of the Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering and Technology.  CRL is also digitizing our existing collections for scholars at member libraries, and negotiating terms of access to major news and other primary source databases provided by commercial publishers. 

This means that CRL is generating new, intangible assets that will have to be managed with the same attention that the bricks and mortar CRL assets have received over the years.  

This entry is part of the "CRL in a nutshell" series. Additional entries from this series are available here.

Bernard F. Reilly
President (2001-2019)
Center for Research Libraries