Staff prepare for book move as renovation nears end

By Amber Lautigar Reichert | February 14, 2023

The reopening of the new main library, Alderman, is just under a year away, but Beth Blanton, Director of Collections, is already deep in the process of mapping the book move into the new space. “I realized I have more than 50 spreadsheets — I stopped counting — keeping track of the collections in the book move,” she said, reflecting on a process that directly involves more than a dozen Library staff members and will touch more than a million printed books.

The process involves a complex “staging” that starts at Ivy Stacks, where most of the books are currently shelved. Since items in Ivy Stacks are sorted by size to allow for maximum efficiency in shelving, they need to be fully reorganized and merged into a browsable order before returning to their shelf locations in Alderman and Clemons.

The original move to Ivy Stacks in 2019 followed a significant expansion of shelving capacity in Clemons Library, which was conducted to ensure browsing access to high-demand items during the renovation. A large collection will remain available in Clemons, even after Alderman reopens in early 2024.

Brenda Loewen, Senior Project Manager, has been close to the inner workings of the renovation project since coming on board in late 2019. Reflecting on the move-out process that took place just before the start of the pandemic, Loewen remarked that it “was an incredible effort,” partly because “the construction manager and the design team were champing, you know, just literally biting at our heels because they were ready to start cordoning off areas to begin demolition.” She adds that the pandemic “forced everybody to get out of the library sooner rather than later.”

Returning to a similar task now, three years later, brings the project full circle. In preparation for physical moves, the Collections team is analyzing use patterns, looking at duplications between physical books and e-books, and making plans for final placement. They’re also shaping an RFP for a vendor to help execute the move itself, which will involve using a cherry picker to remove the books from the 30-foot-high Ivy Stacks shelves, staging them in call number order in an interim area, and finally arranging them correctly in the new space, with heavy oversight from the Library’s Collections team. “Most people just can’t envision what [moving] a million-plus books looks like,” Blanton observed. “We have to be concerned about accuracy of arrangement when they go back on the shelf, getting it done quickly so that folks will have access to the collection as quickly as possible, and quality control throughout the entire process.”

Using the move-out in 2019 as a model and also as a learning opportunity, this project will remain an all-hands effort, relying on expertise from all parts of the Library before its completion. “We recognize the expertise of all our colleagues and know that we’re going to be calling on most everyone in the Library at some point or another to share what they know with us. So these folks represent liaisons, public services, metadata or cataloging, as well as [the back-end systems design],” Blanton said.

The true test will begin one year from now, when a certificate of occupancy is anticipated for the new library building, allowing for the book move to begin. Desks, equipment, and humans will follow, with public access anticipated in early 2024. Until then, in spreadsheets — and in our Library staffers’ unrelenting dedication — we trust.

This story originally appeared in the Library’s Annual Report for FY 2022-23. Download the full PDF to read more.