Exploring the GFA System in the Basement

Update 2022-01-17: The numbers in this post have been updated to reflect data gathered in 2020.

The majority of the physical books owned by the William H. Hannon Library are kept two floors below ground level, deep in the heart of the bluff. LMU students and staff rarely have the opportunity to see this space in person (unless, of course, you attend our annual Haunting of Hannon Library). Every year, we move approximately 10,000 books from the public areas of the library to the basement in order to make room for new acquisitions. Before the William H. Hannon Library opened in 2009, we utilized an off-site facility owned by Iron Mountain to store thousands of low-use books. Students and staff were still able to request these items, but it usually required waiting 1-2 days for the item to be shipped from the Iron Mountain facility. With everything on-site now, we can usually guarantee a 2-hour turnaround on any items requested from the basement. In 2017, for example, more than 4,100 items were requested from the basement stacks.

Part of our basement stacks are arranged in what we call the “GFA.” The GFA system (named after the software that runs it) uses size rather than subject or call numbers to organize items. Books are arranged on the shelf in tote boxes that match their height and the shelves are adjusted to match the height of those tote boxes, thus maximizing the limited amount of space on each shelving column. How much space are we saving? Books are packed so closely together, that the largest gap between shelves in these ranges is only about 1 inch. In one “range” of shelves, GFA hosts 32,544 volumes. Prior to converting that same range to GFA, the range could only accommodate 19,655 items. So take note: if you want to maximize the space of your closet at home, organize everything by size and then adjust your shelving!

Ensuring that every book in the GFA is placed in the correct location is a time-consuming but essential process. Misplacing a book, even by a couple feet, could result in the book being lost for decades (trust us, it’s happened). Every time a book is requested from the GFA system, no fewer than seven actions must be taken before the item can be given to the person that requested it, including a number of double-checks. Ensuring that items are removed and replaced correctly is so delicate that only student supervisors and collections management staff are permitted to process GFA requests. Everything is barcoded: the book, the tote, the shelves. “We run on barcodes” says Collections Management Manager Rose Mendoza.

box of books
A tote of books, organized by the GFA system

Currently, there are 303,271 items in the GFA and we add approximately 61,000 books each year. Some of the new additions come from the main stacks, but many come from items that are already in the basement, but not part of the GFA system. Moving these latter items from “traditional” stacks (organized by call number or subject) into GFA exponentially increases the amount of available space we have to store materials in the future.

All of this is managed by Rose Mendoza and the Collections Management team, consisting of three full time employees, the department manager, and more than 35 student workers (for whom we are always grateful). Without the dedicated work of these staff and student workers, books would never be reshelved, interlibrary loan would not be possible, and nothing could be requested from the basement: the library’s physical collections would be essentially inaccessible. Rose and her team are constantly walking around, identifying and resolving problems with our physical collections. She has a saying: “You touch the shelf, you fix the shelf.” Even though much of the work is behind the scenes, we view the management of our collections as a public service for our users. Says Rose: “The building is beautiful. The view is gorgeous. The collections should be the same.”

Special thanks for Rose Mendoza for help in writing this post.