Building a new health sciences library

Susan Murphy

Health Sciences Librarian Susan Murphy in the construction site of the new Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library.

The rule of thumb for carpenters is measure twice, cut once. For librarians working to set up a new library, the rule is similar— measure twice before putting anything on the shelves.

And that’s exactly what has been happening as Susan Murphy and her staff prepare for move-in day at the Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library in E Wing of the Health Sciences project. The head of the health sciences branch library is no stranger to major moves of library material but nothing in her career matches the complexity of what is expected to happen this spring.

“I came into this project part way through, in July of 2008, so the plans had more or less been drafted out,” said Murphy. “We knew the size of the space and what was going into the library. My job has been to fine tune.”

Referring to plans that paper the walls of her office, Murphy described the still under construction library. It is just over 3,000 sq. meters on three floors, more than double the size of the current Health Sciences Library. The print collections will be housed on compact shelving that moves along rails “similar to what you’d see in your doctor’s office to hold files.” The aim is to reduce the footprint of the print collections “to leave more space for students. That’s one of the goals.”

Because medical students are now required to have a laptop “and with the general embracing of mobile technology,” the new library will be peppered with electrical outlets and network lines, and movable seating throughout “means students can arrange it in ways that work best for them.” About two dozen group study rooms, each equipped with whiteboards and large-screen monitors, will allow for collaboration but “we will have quiet areas because we recognize that quiet study is still necessary.”

A large circulation desk, an IT help desk, and offices, work space and meeting rooms for staff complete the layout, all of which will be bathed in natural light from a curved wall of windows facing College Drive and the Wiggins Road entrance to campus.

But Murphy is leaving the details of all of that to the contractors. Her focus is on moving about five kilometres of print materials into the space from six locations across campus, and ensuring that every book ends up exactly where it needs to be.

She explained that the health sciences collections, including books and print journals, are currently spread out. The majority of it is in the main Health Sciences Library but kinesiology materials are in the Education and Music Library, and most of the back issues of print journals are in the Murray Library. Other materials are in the Natural Sciences Library and in general purpose storage in two locations. Murphy uses the term repatriation when she talks about gathering all 156,000 print items into one space.

“Pulling it all together will be so much more efficient for our client group. It will be nice to have everything under one roof.”

Murphy said work is underway mapping on paper which call number ranges will go where in the new space. “We need to do that because we need to insert repatriated material.” The materials’ call numbers go from A to Z, she explained, but the kinesiology collection, which has GV call numbers, must be inserted in the correct spot. The same is true of all repatriated materials. “There may be some Rs or Qs coming from natural sciences, and sometimes it’s inserting one book at a time rather than a range of call numbers.”

Staff have spent long hours doing very precise measurements of all materials in all locations, measuring twice in fact so they know exactly how much space is needed on each shelf once the materials are all brought together. The information is on massive spread sheets that will guide the shelving process.

Facilities Management Division staff will move the materials on specially built book trucks that hold 500-600 pounds. Murphy expects it will take about three weeks to move just the materials in the current health sciences library.

And, everything has to be relabelled to ensure it is returned to the right branch. Right now, the kinesiology materials, for example, are labelled for return to the education and music library; that needs to be changed to health sciences as it does for all repatriated materials.

In addition to measuring and mapping, staff have been running time trials on various aspects of the move, including loading and unloading the book trucks, and relabelling a single bay or section of shelving. It takes about one hour per bay, and there are hundreds of bays.

“I think we’re fairly well organized,” said Murphy.

The plans will continue to be refined until it is time to move, which Murphy said will be June at the earliest. Once 51 per cent of the existing health sciences library materials are in the new location, the old library will be closed, the new one opened, and a retrieval process will be used while the remainder of the collection is moved.

Faced with such a daunting process, Murphy is remarkably calm but that’s thanks to some similar experiences earlier in her career. In fact, this will be her third major library move, the others being at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton and at the University of Alberta. She was also involved in bar coding every item in the University of Lethbridge library.

“It took forever and I lost all the skin on my thumb, but I met my future husband on that job.”

Most librarians, she said, would experience a move or a renovation over their career “because physical facilities need to evolve to accommodate the way people work and learn, and the materials they use.” But few have the chance to move into a brand new building.

That is why Murphy is looking forward to the Canadian Health Librarians Association conference taking place in Saskatoon in May. “People are very excited about coming to the conference to see the new library. We’re planning on giving tours; it’s a great opportunity for us to profile the new library.”

She warned though, that when librarians gather, they are neither quiet nor reserved. “We’re loud and we eat lots. The stereotype has done us a huge disservice. We’re a gregarious bunch—there’s very little shushing that goes on.”

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