A Summer Project: Helping Plan an Academic Library and Archive

by Rachel Fox

When I began this program at San Jose State University, I was already employed as the Circulation Manager at a small academic library.  There have been many times during my academic career at San Jose State University where my classes and my professional work have connected, but this past year, a particular project stood out when I was involved in a building project for our library.  When the rest of the country had been battling a bad economy, our school was blessed with donations to renovate and expand a portion of the library in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of our school’s president.  My classes Preservation Management and Information Organizations and Management helped prepare me for this new venture.  Three skills I learned in the process were to have good communication, flexibility, and planning.

Because our current president had made such an impact on our school, the administration and school decided to honor him by making a room that would hold the institution’s archives and share its history.  This room would have flat screen monitors that could display videos or multimedia presentations about our institution.  It would, in some ways, look like a gallery, as the books would wrap around the walls and have flat screens monitors or pictures interspersed within the stacks.  Tables and chairs would be available for readers, or for holding meetings or potential information literacy classes.  The plan would be to also renovate the front portion of the library – which included the reference and circulation departments – to match the legacy room that was being built..

About a year ago, the provost came to the library asking about adding a room dedicated to the current president; in his vision, something similar to an archive.  Since then, the board of trustees had raised the money and grants were given to fund the project and the building began.  As Circulation Manager, the director consulted with me in making the plans.  One of the responsibilities of the Circulation Manager was the planning of interior space, though this typically meant re-arranging furniture we already had.   With the reference collection to be surround most of the front room, I chose to place tables and chairs in the center.  This provided more seating and table space for students to study.  There were not many places to study on campus, and these tables could entice students to study in the library.  Also the tables and chairs would add much more seating capacity to the  library than before, where we mostly only had loveseats or couches.  I planned how many chairs and tables we would need, wrote a plan, and my director presented it to the provost and building committee, who all loved it. 

Through this first step in the process, we had to make sure that we effectively communicated our vision the administration and board.  This was especially important throughout the planning stages, and was made easier by making a plan ourselves to present to the administration.  As library staff we planned together, and with vendors as they came in to begin their work.  The library staff would meet with the vendors to help plan the details of the building design, furniture, electrical outlets, lighting, etc.  And for the elements of library service that the vendors or members of the administrative building committee did not understand, as a library staff we had to be able clearly explain how these elements were important. 

Once the construction began, our lives became more hectic.  The library was open throughout most of the remodeling.  I managed four student employees who helped us in many different tasks.I had to make sure that they were protected and taking the right precautions during this period.   And as most anyone would know during construction, it was important to be able to make quick adjustments.  There were often times when our water was turned off and I had to make signs letting our patrons know where else they could find water.  Other times, the work would be really loud or dangerous, so we would have to close the library for the day to patrons.  Since we were making a new entrance to the library, we had to redirect traffic to a side entrance that is not visible to any typical pattern of campus traffic.  The list of changes and adjustments could go on, but all this shows how it is important to make decisions, direct staff, and direct patrons. 

What the administration and library hoped was that this would be a summer project, turned out longer.  The remodeling of the library is almost complete as I write this; the new desks have arrived, chairs for the patrons, and most of the reference shelving is up.  It wasn’t our first choice to have this extended into the semester, but we made it work.  It helped that I was able to learn about project management skills in Information and Organizations Management, and as concerned as I was that it took more complex theories or knowledge about organizing such a project, in the end it is the simple things like good communication, flexibility, and planning; things that as students we are able to practice and learn through our classes and group assignments.  The next phase of the project, including a gallery and developing the archive, is the new Legacy room; which only promises to be exciting.

Rachel Fox is the Circulation Manager at The Master’s College Powell Library.  She received her B.A. in English from The Master’s College and is graduating from San Jose State University with her Masters in Library and Information Science this December.  This past year she has begun to assist with the archives at The Master’s College and setting up the institution’s archive.