Originally presented at the Tennessee Library Association Annual Conference (Chattanooga, TN) in April 2013.
The founding of Union University can be traced back to 1823. In the years since 1823, Union has had several libraries, but never a freestanding, brand new building constructed specifically to serve as the campus library. Libraries have been part of other buildings on campus, and the university once transformed a music conservatory into a library. Now, with the bicentennial of Union University just 10 years away, plans for the first freestanding library building are well underway (see Figures 1 through 3). Funding for the library will come from two primary sources: one major donor plus matching funds from a variety of individuals and groups. The major donor, a West Tennessee foundation, has committed to fund approximately one-half of the library project, and the university’s advancement staff are raising matching gifts.
Long before Union University announced its intention to build a new library, many on campus agreed that a new library was needed. The current Jackson campus library, the Emma Waters Summar Library, opened for service in the fall of 1975. The Summar Library is located within Union’s Penick Academic Complex (PAC), a larger academic facility that includes administrative and faculty offices, classrooms, gymnasiums, a theatre, a chapel, an art gallery and other educational facilities under one roof. The library is currently housed in a rectangular space within PAC. Two hallways, a sidewalk and a gymnasium border the four sides of the Summar Library. These four adjacent boundaries surrounding Summar Library have made it impossible for the library to physically expand since 1975. Enrollment at Union University has grown from 853 students (fall 1974) to 4,262 students (fall 2012). Based on enrollment growth alone, it is easy to justify the need to enlarge the library and enhance the facilities and services it provides to the Union University community.
I was hired as Union University’s Associate Vice President for Academic Resources and Director of the Library in July 2009, and I learned during my interview that many faculty and staff inside and outside of the library eagerly looked forward to the possibility of a new library on campus. Once hired, I began assembling a resource collection of materials on all topics related to library buildings (see the list of selected resources at the end of this article). It is very important to read and digest the contents of your resource collection. Be willing to order interlibrary loans to supplement the content of locally held resources. It is never too early to be prepared. Get started early by collecting resources you will need to make significant building decisions and recommendations.
Attend conferences on library building and planning of library space. I attended one of Library Journal’s Design Institutes and a continuing education course, “Designing Libraries for the 21st Century,” offered by the Southern Chapter of the Medical Library Association. I also participated in a multi-day “Academic Library Planning and Revitalization” institute offered at The Ohio State University. I further developed my external training by spending many hours in the exhibit halls at ALA Midwinter, ACRL and Medical Library Association conferences. Exhibit halls are great places to meet vendors who specialize in moving, designing, building, renovating and furnishing libraries. Also, focus on technology and security vendors. Whether you are attending a continuing education course or chatting with a furniture vendor, these professional experiences may provide you with information and skills that will help you further develop your library building skillset.
You will need behavioral savvy to maneuver successfully through the challenges of planning a new library. Yes, you are encouraged to acquire all of the building design expertise and facility planning skills possible. These will help you achieve success, but ultimately it may be your behavioral savvy that is most important. From the day a library building project or renovation project is announced, you should skillfully demonstrate the best collegial library building advocacy you can muster.
- Be prepared for every library building meeting; be prepared for every debate; know the answer before the question is asked. You, as the library professional, should know more about libraries than everyone else involved in the project. Pleasantly articulate a building message that is understandable and that supports the mission of your organization.
- Be cooperative, proactive and flexible. Be known among those at your institution, by the architect’s firm and the construction crew as the cooperative, available, competent person you really are for this once-in-a-career opportunity.
- Be supportive to the development and donor support staff. Whether you are asked to participate in fundraising or not, let fundraisers know you are available to support them and provide accurate information about the library building.
- Know your campus culture. Know what is appropriate at your university and what is not appropriate. Advocate for all of your constituents—faculty, staff, students, community users and library personnel. Seek building outcomes that are optimal for each of your major constituent groups.
- Be available. As the end of the planning and design phase draws near, you may be asked to view changes to the floor plans. Accept each request as a golden opportunity to improve the library plans. Think smart and strategically. Be “time aware” and respond with useful information before deadlines arrive.
- Whenever possible, turn challenges that offer the possibility of disappointment, loss or failure into opportunities for service improvement that enhance the new library’s mission.
As with any major project, a library building project is likely to span several years. From the announcement phase until the open house phase, there are likely to be a variety of learning experiences faced by the librarians involved. Below is a list of changing expectations we have encountered at Union University:
- Expect to be involved in the building planning process. Ask to be involved if the offer doesn’t naturally come to you.
- Again, expect to be the most informed about libraries, especially if you have properly prepared yourself for this professional opportunity.
- Expect to be the educator in the process. Educate architects, faculty members and administrators about libraries and the needs of library users.
- Be a sales agent. Sell the needs of all the library’s constituent groups. Be the advocate for everyone else when it comes to the new library.
- Expect your institutional culture to be a factor. For example, your culture may affect the external look of the library or the internal décor.
- Expect things to go wrong occasionally. Gain additional credibility when you respond thoughtfully, strategically and quickly to assist others who need your problem-solving input.
- Expect the library to be built. When circumstances place the building process behind schedule, remain optimistic and helpful. Encourage everyone that delays are not always a bad sign. For example, redesign of the floor plans for our new library meant the addition of thousands of square feet on two floors originally slated for open rotunda space.
- Expect library staff concerns to shift in the new library. A new library will function in similar but different ways than the old library. Our new, freestanding three-story library with north, south, east and west ground-level access points will operate differently than our old one-story library with one entrance and one exit.
Library renovation and building projects are likely to result in a variety of challenging outcomes. When undertaking library assessments following building projects, it is reasonable for assessments to validate improved satisfaction levels among library customers and among library personnel. Improved morale among library employees is often identified following successful building projects. Post-project assessments are likely to indicate users are aware of improved library service. Assessments may also indicate areas where new challenges are occurring which need the attention of library personnel. Evaluations may indicate adjustments that are needed to existing services. Evaluations may also draw attention to new services that should be implemented following the opening of the new library facility. Team-driven solutions may offer the most successful outcomes for all library constituencies. Make sure library employees have ample opportunities to participate in shaping the new library’s operational plan and are fully involved in the implementation of new ideas, including changes to policies and procedures.
When you find yourself serving as a member of a library design and building project team, you have been given a great professional responsibility and an exciting opportunity. Take the responsibility seriously. Be prepared and do your best work. Remember that achieving the best library possible is a better outcome to be linked with than a reputation of prideful, spirited behavior that does not benefit your coworkers or customers. Be humble, helpful and winsome in all of your building project relationships. In all of your negotiations, be fair, honest and cooperative. Earning and keeping the respect of both internal and external colleagues will be a professional heritage worth accomplishing and maintaining throughout each phase of the building project and into every aspect of your future professional life.
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