Universities are under pressure to do more with less, including serving more students, ensuring higher graduation rates, and improving campus life — all with fewer public dollars and less support from government agencies. To address these challenges, many post-secondary institutions have embraced the notion of sustainability. Is it possible to spend a little, gain a lot, and eventually reap the benefits of lower costs and reduced overhead? Several institutions have done just that by leveraging technology to optimize storage solutions and improve their overall sustainability. Here’s a look at where they’re headed.
Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips can be placed on just about anything. For a university, libraries are the ideal location for an RFID rollout. RFID tags improve on the barcode model since they can be read at significant distance and without direct line of sight; in addition, they can be updated on-demand. This makes it possible to accurately track books in a library quickly and easily; no more hunting through stacks or looking through pages of returns to determine if a book is actually in stock. What’s more, with improved book tracking comes a decreased need to spend on “backup” copies in the event of loss, in turn reducing overall library spend.
As noted by Bibliotheca, RFID systems are common in the U.K., with nearly 75 percent adoption. In the U.S., meanwhile, just 10 percent use similar technology. As libraries transition away from staff desks to self-service kiosks, one can expect this number to increase.
Stack and Store
Meanwhile, libraries such as Ivy Stacks at the University of Virginia are enjoying enhanced sustainability thanks to the deployment of more physically focused measures to reduce stack footprints. For example, the library recently adopted the “Harvard Model” for material storage, which has materials organized by height rather than category. They also invested $5 million in high-density, mobile, high-stack shelving, which doubled their existing storage capacity. By moving less-used materials to this mobile shelving, the library was able to improve user experience, enhance capacity and retain full access to all materials as needed.
Another way universities can innovate their storage practices is by using smart lockers for package delivery at residences and other campus facilities. Upon arrival, all packages are automatically tracked, scanned and stored in a specific locker. Recipients receive a text or email notification of delivery along with the locker ID. To access their package, they enter a unique, one-time PIN or swipe their university RFID card. By eliminating the need to manually track and secure packages, universities can drastically reduce time-consuming complaints about lost or stolen mail, in turn reducing administrative overhead.
Universities now generate massive amounts of data. Every student transaction, administrative decision or user website access creates information. While there’s potential in this data to discover new and more efficient admin processes, it also comes with a problem: namely, storage. One option is keeping everything close-at-hand, which means building and maintaining an on-site storage facility. The power consumption and physical footprint required, however, is problematic for institutions looking for ways to reduce total costs. Moving to the cloud is another alternative – send data to secure, off-site servers and perform analysis at a distance to reap the rewards of big data without the commensurate storage costs. Going forward? There’s already been significant progress on the “Superman Memory Crystal” from scientists at the University of Southampton. This innovation offers 360 TB/disc capacity and a 13.8 billion-year lifespan, along with work on digital image storage in one of nature’s most efficient capture systems: DNA.
Post-secondary schools are on the hunt for sustainable technologies that both improve the bottom line and the quality of campus life. Digital — and physical — storage options offer new ways to access the best of both worlds.