Maintaining Precious Library Resources

Individuals who were responsible for maintaining college and university libraries a generation ago would marvel at the state of today’s higher education library facilities. As if being responsible for a wealth of books isn’t enough, libraries rival many of their classroom or administrative counterparts both for the complexity and financial investment that is required to build and maintain them.

Consider the facts. Many college and university libraries today boast not only an extensive collection of books, but meeting rooms with sophisticated audio-visual systems, complex computer networks to provide access to on-line resources and even cafes for casual dining. Facility personnel must work within an environment that operates virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Maintenance efforts must be worked around the needs of multiple users from librarians and students to faculty and other staff. It can be a daunting proposition that requires careful planning to make the best use of available financial resources and personnel time and talents.

Establish a Master Plan

Al Stoverink, director of Facilities Management for Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, Mo., oversees maintenance of the university’s 180,000-gsf library. According to Stoverink, the university’s efficiency in maintaining the library can be attributed to a master plan that guides all maintenance and renovation efforts.

“Three years ago, the new library dean, Dr. Sarah Cron, formed a steering committee with representatives from faculty, staff, library staff, facilities and other key campus groups to address the library’s long-term needs. The group worked extensively with our consultant, Hidell & Associates, to develop a conceptual plan to guide both remodeling of the space and expansion of our library needs. Our library was originally constructed in the early 1900s and underwent a major expansion in the 1960s, so we needed to identify a range of requirements to keep the library operating at maximum efficiency. The resulting master plan ensures that we are making the best use of our resources according to the most appropriate schedule.”

Southeast Missouri has approximately $250,000 for library maintenance each year under the annual deferred maintenance and repairs allocation from the State of Missouri. The master plan helps facility and library staff implement maintenance efforts that meet the most immediate needs based on projects identified in the plan.

“The master plan allows everyone at the university to know where we are going with library maintenance and renovations,” Stoverink says. “Our planning has been critical to ensure that we are working together and that we can schedule projects well in advance so there are no surprises.”

Working from a big picture view, Southeast Missouri started with the library’s exterior building envelope. The library’s roof was replaced, and engineering is now being done for an exterior wall replacement that is necessary to combat moisture-related problems as a result of the expansion in the 1960s. The existing brick will be removed, the interior walls repaired and the brick replaced. Other projects have involved converting a theater to a computer lab for library instruction and miscellaneous smaller projects.

Prioritize Your Projects

Pat Howell, associate vice president for Facilities at the University of North Texas (UNT) in Denton, believes that prioritizing maintenance projects is critical to making the best use of available resources. “In order to take advantage of personnel and financial resources, we have a five-step hierarchy for library maintenance projects. This allows us to do the projects that are most critical first.”

Maintenance projects at UNT’s libraries, which include one main library and an annex, are prioritized as follows:

1. safety -- any component that impacts the safety of the library’s users including fire, health and welfare;

2. electricity -- components related to the electrical system, including telecommunications requirements and lighting;

3. HVAC -- a critical component both for humidity control and user comfort;

4. accessibility -- making sure that all areas are accessible and that all doors are fully operational; and

5. furniture -- making sure that all furniture works appropriately and that it is maintained to be used as intended.

Howell notes that emergency work orders obviously rise to the top of the list. Anything that would damage the building, such as a water leak through the roof, goes to the top of the list.

To help identify maintenance issues, Howell works in concert with the library’s Building Coordinator (every building at UNT has a coordinator). This individual is charged with identifying early maintenance requirements, hopefully before the user or before the work becomes more extensive. The coordinator keeps facility personnel appraised of current needs and also has input into long-term goals for library maintenance.

Have the Right Facility Staff

Howell also believes that having the right facility staff in place to complete maintenance projects is essential. “If we’re going to undertake a maintenance project in the library, we make sure up front that we have the right staff available both in terms of expertise and numbers. Whether it’s carpenters, electricians, painters or another specialty group, we make sure that they are ready to go at the start of a project and that they have all the materials they need. This is essential to doing the work as cost efficiently as possible and according to the established schedule.”

Communicate, Communicate

If having a long-term master plan establishes a foundation for success, then constant communication with all users is the key to success when it comes to library maintenance. Both Stoverink and Howell agree that communicating with all users, particularly when major maintenance projects must be undertaken, is critical to ensuring that operations are disrupted as little as possible.

Since libraries operate virtually all day, every day, library staff, faculty and users must be notified well in advance if an area within the library will be unavailable or if those resources will be moved to another location for a period of time. For larger maintenance projects, Howell sits down with the library’s staff to develop a list of all items that must be coordinated during the project.

Whenever possible, larger maintenance projects are done during breaks or the summer when the student population is lower. When work is required during peak times, both Stoverink and Howell ensure that the required resources are still available. “If we have to work in an area, then we move those resources to another part of the library or to another facility in close proximity to the library,” says Howell. “Avoiding work during exam times, as much as possible, is especially critical since students need access to both quiet places to study and both books and on-line resources housed at the library.”

At UNT, 48 hours notice is required before any maintenance project can be undertaken except in emergency situations. The university uses its e-mail system to provide initial notices regarding upcoming work, project updates and the location of alternative sites, if necessary. Other avenues for communicating include the building coordinators, the campus newsletter and posters.