Recently, my library underwent a large renovation (thank you, state grants!). The results were stunning. We now have a beautiful, bright blue carpet and shiny new desk in the children’s room, a fresh coat of paint in all the rooms, a large new adult/YA reference desk, and catalog stations that don’t jut into the aisles. The library no longer looks like a tribute to the early seventies, which is wonderful. Once the shelves and furniture come in, we will have a YA section where they can congregate (and all their books will be on shelves rather than stacks on the floor. I’m sure they will appreciate that), along with a whole new reference section. Unfortunately, the actual renovation was made to be much more annoying and frustrating than it needed to be.
Among other things, the entire library was re-carpeted and repainted, which meant that a good quarter of the collection had to be moved multiple times throughout the renovation. Why multiple? We have limited space to put things and no off-site storage areas where we could put things for the week of carpeting/painting. So, we moved them to the un-carpeted foyer and meeting room until we ran out of room, then we had to put materials on the carpeted areas, only to have to move them again at a later point, when a different area had been carpeted. Yep. We did move some books more than five times before they were put back on the shelves. Our entire dvd and cd collections were moved about four times each, although, thankfully, those could be moved on the shelves. Needless to say, this alone was a complicated issue. Only books on bottom shelves and the shelves attached to the wall (or with fixtures attached to the wall) had to be moved—the rest were covered in plastic in a sad attempt to keep dust out. This meant that in the children’s room alone, we would have items like Bar-Bas next to Ben-Bep on the floor. In theory, anyway.
In addition, we allowed people to take out double the materials in the week before the library closed for renovation. While this did mean that we had to move a lot less, we also had little idea how much space to leave for those missing books when placing items back on the shelves. As a result, we spent a good deal of time shifting materials to ensure they all fit or to make up for large gaps for weeks afterwards. In fact, there are some areas where this is still occurring, two months after the library’s reopening.
We did many things right, and many things could not be made simpler due to the time constraints (Two weeks to move an entire collection multiple times while working around several work crews? Ew). We also did many things wrong or in ways that could have been easily simplified or streamlined.
Mostly, our problem is that we did not plan ahead enough. Oh sure, we knew what color the walls were to be and when the painters were coming several weeks in advance. We, however, did not know where we would place the new reference desks (or what colors/styles we wanted them), where we wanted the dvd collection to permanently go, what books we were going to move where during the renovation, or even what parts of the collection we had to move in the first place. The results of this?
-We didn’t plan for our staff needs. No one thought about the fact that over half our staff is over the age of 50 and that they cannot move all that much and certainly not for hours at a time or that they would simply refuse to move anything on the unfair theory that that is what pages are for. It also never occurred to many that the younger staff and part-time pages couldn’t be counted on to pick up all the slack-they also cannot move books for eight hours a day no matter what anyone says about their young bones. At the same time, actual skills were overlooked. Someone has experience moving large objects with a dolly? She can’t do that here! She’s five feet tall; she’ll clearly die in the process! What do you mean, the reference librarian knows how to do wiring? She can’t place the internet router; that’s what the overworked, frazzled maintenance guy is for. We now just have to wait three hours while he finishes those other twelve things. Our single male page and the maintenance guy were seriously overworked since they often ended up being the only ones tall/strong enough to reach certain items. Ladders. Ladders would have been good.
-We haphazardly moved our collection. While Juv. Fiction Bar-Bas should have gone next to Ben-Bep, it often went next to adult mysteries A-B or the 300s of the reference collection. This was horrendously confusing when replacing the collection and there were several times we thought we had lost entire shelves of books.
-We wasted a lot of time arguing over mundane things, like desk colors, when we should have been moving things so the workers could paint the walls or deciding what to do about the fact that we had literally run out of space to put things.
-We moved the dvd and cd collections multiple times before deciding where to keep them. Those shelves are heavy, just so you know.
-There was no main supervision for any given section, creating confusion and often frustration as YA librarians and pages tried to, for example, guess how many shelves adult audio book collection once took up.
-We did not ask for physical samples of the carpet and desk materials ahead of time despite the emphasis given to the coloring palette. We now have an adult carpet that looks grey rather than the color we thought we were getting, and we ultimately changed the panels behind the reference desk after it was decided that they looked depressing (they did, but that’s beside the point).
-We did not think about how we were going to have to take the books off of the many tables and long rows on the floor we placed them on. So, we put them on backwards, essentially. Instead of making it so that we could take off the closest things to us first, we did the opposite. As such, we had to reach all the way to the back of tables, or 3 feet deep in the foyer, to get the first books we needed to put back on the shelves. I cannot tell you how fun it was to stand in a four-inch gap, contort myself under a table, and pass a two-foot stack of reference books over to someone who was standing several feet away. I’m surprised there were no major injuries.
-There was no time management. We barely finished in time to open the doors. The YA and reference collections lived in the meeting room for a week after we opened; we didn’t have internet for a day (Want to anger patrons? Don’t have internet when you reopen from a major renovation. Then, tell them that the book they want is still in the meeting room and you’ll have to go get it for them).
We failed to label many things, or anything. Sure, this can count under the planning heading, but it was enough of an issue in this case to get its own category.
-We did not label the books uniformly as we moved them. Everyone had their own system, and if someone wasn’t there to tell what ‘3rd shelf over, children’s room R-Re’ meant, it became a guessing game that no one ever won.
-We also did not label the shelving units as we took them down and, rather than placing them in neat piles according to where they came from, we put them wherever we could find room. I’m sure you can see the problems here. Some of the shelves were slightly different sizes and there were two incompatible shelving unit types painted the same color.
-We also did not teach everyone how to put the shelves in properly, or that there were different types. A lot of time was wasted trying to bang in shelves that wouldn’t fit and even more trying to teach each person how to put them together as they wandered over. Had they been labeled, we wouldn’t have had to explain so many little things, like that the number of holes makes a big difference, or that no, that shelf, will actually not go with those shelf-hangers.
So, what should you do if your library needs to be renovated? Plan ahead and label everything. Everything. The shelves, the screws, the books, the book carts (this will deter fighting later, trust me on this), the cleaning supplies, the pages. Don’t do it in the middle of winter if you live somewhere with snow—the ability to temporarily put things outside or to wash the shelves with a garden hose would have been wonderful. Really don’t do this right before tax season; people will try to get in the library ‘just for one form’ no matter how big you make the ‘SORRY-WE ARE CLOSED FOR RENOVATION’ signs. In retrospect, it is all obvious, but, of course, it always is.