Several plans emerged over the years for a large volume storage facility. One of the earliest plans in 2001 indicated a “Multi-Use Managed Storage Facility,” managed by the then Materials Management Unit. By 2006 the idea changed to an “Administrative Conservation and Information Resources (ACIR) Facility,” located near the Physical Plant, that would provide office space, a conservation centre for the archival collection, and space for university records. Not only would it consolidate scattered units, it would free up academic space. The estimated cost for the project was $12 million.
In the summer of 2007, the vision evolved to a “High Density Library,” modeled after a similar facility at Harvard University, called the Harvard Depository. The facility packed and stored books and archival boxes according to size, allowing for considerable space saving in a ware-house-like building with 30 feet high shelving. Scheduled for construction on campus along with the Taylor Family Digital Library, the High Density Library would streamline access to library and archival resources, and cost $7.5 million with a completion date of fall 2009.
However, soil testing in February 2008 at the original location (east of Campus Gate, near Scurfield Hall), indicated it could not support the weight of the building. The building required a super-flat floor in order to accommodate the aisles of warehouse shelving; an uneven floor compromised access to the resources. The university started to explore the possibility of the Spy Hill campus instead.
The HDL opened in the summer of 2010, ahead of the start of the massive move of library and archival materials from the then MacKimmie Library Tower to both the new Taylor Family Digital Library, and to offsite storage. Students reported issues with accessing items in March 2011 due to complications from this move.
In 2016, the HDL received LEED gold certification. In 2018, a new module joined the original to increase the capacity for library and archival storage.