Interesting article on the new Library Shelving Facility.

Before Williams College opens its new library, it will open an off-campus, high-security, high-density, solar-powered, heavily computerized library storage facility on Simonds Road.

This building, which is essentially a concrete box, will eventually store about 900,000 volumes in 10,000 square feet of environmentally controlled space, on shelving 30-feet high. The materials will be stored on trays, and stacked according to size, not subject, to allow for the most efficient packing possible. It will be accessed via fork lifts.

During the construction of the new library on campus, some materials will be temporarily housed at the off-campus Library Shelving Facility, which is how college officials refer to it. But once the new library is finished, the off-site building will hold some of the less heavily used volumes and journals on a more permanent basis.

“When we were planning the new library, we realized that there was only going to be so much space we could afford both financially and in acreage because we’re located in the center of campus,” said Sylvia Brown, Williams College archivist. “So we had to think about what do we want to have most in the center of campus and how are people going to be using the library.”

Good stuff. It does not take a futurist to see that, for students in the near future, if something isn’t on-line, it doesn’t exist. The College could cut the amount of space on campus for books and journals by 90% and still be fine. Indeed, I suspect that, in 10 years, this facility will seem like a ridiculous white elephant. Won’t 98% of the material it contains be available on the web for free?

On the roof will be 96 photovoltaic panels, which will generate roughly 30,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually.

According to Stephanie Boyd, director of the Williams College Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, “This building has a nice, big, flat roof, so there was lots of room to put solar panels up. And it’s easier to do while you’re constructing a new building. So it just seemed like a great application.”

The cost of the solar panel project was partially funded by a rebate award from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative through the Commonwealth Solar program to the tune of $92,670. The remainder, about $170,000, was funded by the college’s capital improvement budget, Boyd said.

She added that this is the first significant photovoltaic installation at Williams College and will help the college achieve its greenhouse gas reduction target of 10 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2020.

Hmmmm. Color me skeptical but willing to be educated. Is one quarter of a million dollars a wise investment, either by the College or the taxpayers of Massachusetts? I think that a kilowatt hour in Massachusetts is worth around 10 cents. So, these panels will, at best, save the College $3,000 per year. Am I doing this math correctly? Isn’t it silly to spend $170,000 to save $3,000 per year? And note that this calculation ignores the cost of (annual) maintenance and replacement cells. But what could possibly damage solar panels on a flat roof during a Williamstown winter?

There is a great senior thesis to be written about the actual economics of the College’s attempts to cut carbon emissions — all the messy details of dollars and kilowatts. My suspicion is that the College is wasting money on expensive hair shirts.

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