Redesigning the Earl Gregg Swem Library
by Alan Zoellner, Kay Domine, and Susan Riggs
By Alan Zoellner
On February 5, 2005, the annual Charter Day ceremonies at the College of William and Mary featured the rededication of the Earl Gregg Swem Library. Librarian of Congress James Billington was the featured speaker, but he shared the dais with Thomas Jefferson, who strolled over from Colonial Williamsburg to offer his thoughts on the new library of his alma mater and the remarkable changes occurring around him.
The event marked the climax of a process that began in 1992 with the college's commitment to build "a new library for a new century." After six years of planning/preparation and six years of construction/renovation, the new library was completed. Among its distinctive features are an Information Commons with 48 computer workstations, an adjacent Learning Center with state-of-the-art presentation equipment, over 500 data ports for laptop connections, a wireless network, a media wall with 6 display cubes of streaming news and information video, the library's café (named The Mews—or Swem backwards—by the students), and the signature architectural feature, the 800-pound, 8-foot-high window of Honduran mahogany high over the main entrance. Also part of the new building is the Warren Burger Special Collections wing, which houses the library's 3 million manuscripts, 35,000 rare books, the University archives, and the professional and personal papers of the former chief justice. The wing also features changing exhibits of the library's treasures, a display of the college regalia (maces and badges), and the Warren Burger office exhibit. Still to be renovated over the next year is a state-of-the-art Media Center on the ground floor.
In the following articles, Kay Domine, Assistant Dean and Swem Building Project Manager, describes the process of managing both new construction and existing building renovation and offers advice to those who find themselves in a similar predicament in the future. Susan Riggs, Manuscripts and Rare Books Librarian, weaves a tale of exile and return for the Special Collections staff and materials.
Part One: Managing New Construction and Building Renovation
By Kay Domine
The Earl Gregg Swem Library of the College of William and Mary is finishing up a lengthy expansion and renovation project that took it from 166,724 gross square feet to 265,375 gross square feet and changed it into a state-of-the-art, high-tech media and information center for the campus. The rededication was held on February 5, 2005. It all began back in 1992 when early planning involved all staff in visualizing what the ideal library would be like and communicating those ideas to architects. As approvals and funding fell into place, work began in earnest with the architectural firm of Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson, and Abbott designing the basic structure and layout of the library. Hanbury, Evans, Wright, Vlattas, and Company handled all the rest of the work and the oversight of the construction. Later on, we contracted with the design firm of Cox, Kliewer, and Company, P. C. to plan the final furniture layout and to provide furniture selections.
The General Assembly allocated the money for the project in March 1998. The official groundbreaking took place in April so our students could be included; the contract for the general contractor was awarded in November; and construction began in February 1999. In 2001, structural cracks were discovered in the floors of the existing building, along with other structural problems with some walls, windows, and a balcony. These issues required construction to almost stop while engineers worked out a solution and the state approved additional funding for repairs. As the project is just now nearing completion, with all areas occupied and punch list work ongoing, construction on our library has been going on for over six years.
Since we were both adding new space and renovating the existing library, we had to phase the construction into five segments. The first was easy enough—build the new part beside the old. That didn't disrupt much except for parking near the library. Then the new part had to be connected to the old and there had to be access between them. That marked the beginning of a long process of moves, demolition, noise, dust and dirt, safety and security issues, and workmen actually in the library. In order to renovate the existing building, we had to relocate all existing functions, people, and collections. The new addition wasn't large enough to accommodate everything from the existing building, so we moved Special Collections to an entirely different location ten miles away for the remainder of the project. We then began a series of phased moves as pieces of the building were readied for occupancy, a process that began in late 2001 when the first two floors of the new addition were opened for use and ended with our getting occupancy for the remaining portion of the renovated building in February 2005.
During that time every department and library employee moved at least once, and many moved two or three times. One department moved five times; at least one person had to be relocated a couple of times because of water leaks; and the entire general collection moved twice, with pieces of it moving four or five times. The main entrance to the library and the circulation and reference departments moved to the new addition for a couple of years. Library patrons and staff alike had to cope with changing locations and access paths to various service areas and portions of the general collection, as well as ever-shifting emergency exit routes.
During the preconstruction years of this multi-year process, library staff spent a tremendous amount of time thinking about, and then describing to the architects, how the various departments functioned and what the flow of work was like throughout the library. We were given the chance to say how much and what kind of space was needed and how departments interacted with each other.
This forced staff to actually look at the workflow and the functioning of their departments, sometimes for the first time. We studied the furniture and equipment, researched trends in technology, and looked at the current and predicted needs of our patrons.
The opportunity for a new and expanded facility with exciting options for public service and greatly enhanced technological capabilities proved to be a wonderful learning experience for most staff. The designer and architects encouraged, helped, and sometimes forced us to think creatively and differently about our work and environment. That is amazingly difficult for most people to do. What we have works and we try to recreate what is familiar with added space or whatever we feel would help. New technologies and changing user needs helped to drive the changes in how we pictured the new library. The designer, in particular, provided a process for us to take advantage of this rare opportunity to think "outside the box" and envision a whole new library concept. Staff and patrons continue to be faced with having to change how they do things. For the most part, everyone has come through this wonderfully and has adapted well. The students generally slide fairly easily through changes. Users have possibly learned to be less reticent about asking questions of staff. Staff have learned that they can be flexible and cope with major disruptions and changes in environment and routine.
One of the things that helped Swem Library get through the construction project was the appointment of a building project librarian who worked full-time on the project from 1997 on. Every library project should have such a person to serve as library liaison to all the architects, campus facilities planning or capital outlay departments, designers, and procurement personnel. That person has to quickly learn how to read architectural drawings, talk the jargon, and interpret it to library staff. It helps to have worked in the library for several years in order to be familiar with library needs and functions.
Following are other suggestions for surviving a library construction project. Be sure the building project librarian is high enough in the library hierarchy to make decisions and authorize some expenditures. That person must be included in all construction progress, budget, and other meetings to represent the needs of the library, and serves as the lead in communication with staff.
Make sure you take good quality "before" photographs as well as keeping a photographic record throughout the project.
Question everything! Especially question the need for activities involving the staff and the need for large rush tasks. Our first architects gave us the huge task, with a quick turnaround time, of specifying all our furniture needs, what we currently had, what was needed, how much new things would cost, and how much space was required. This demanded hours of work for all departments. It turned out that they didn't do anything at all with the information and that the furnishings contract actually went to a design firm that started over from scratch with the furnishings.
The library should be involved in planning how staff and patrons will get to and from the building and where staff will park. This should not be left up to the campus facilities planning or the construction people. Construction vehicles, often very large, have to regularly get to and from the construction site. The individual construction workers have to park their vehicles. Massive quantities of building materials will have to be stored nearby. Be prepared to give up a lot of parking and space near any con-struction area.
Safety for people and collections will probably be a constant issue, and possibly an ever-changing one if a building contin-ues to be in use during renovation. Students, and often staff, seem to take their safety for granted and will enter any area, disre-garding noise, commotion, and even caution tape and barricades. Plan for how to protect people and collections at all times, in-cluding getting them out of the building in emergencies.
Communication is key in surviving a large construction project. Staff need to know about the many changes in plans and construction schedules, as well as knowing ahead of time about specific construction activities that will affect staff and patrons.
Make sure staff really understand that everything they talked about with architects or designers won't happen unless it shows up on drawings. The natural assumption is that anything discussed will be done. That will not be the case. Drawings have to be reviewed carefully for each and every needed item, including electrical and data connections in the appropriate locations for both staff and patrons. Keep records of all discussions and decisions.
Have staff prepared to volunteer for all sorts of different tasks during construction, from creating and installing temporary signs, to overseeing the collection move, to planning for departmental moves, to overseeing furniture deliveries and installation. Our staff really came through for us. Everyone should be prepared to deal with missed deadlines and less work getting done at times. You might need to prioritize library functions. For example, users have to be able to find and check out books, but possibly the bindery functions could be put off for a few weeks while staff work on construction-related tasks.
Frequent hard hat tours for staff are vital. Staff need to see how the building is changing and be a part of these changes. They need to see their new work spaces as these are constructed in order to get a concept of how things will be. Most people don't get a good idea of a space from looking at architectural drawings.
Do things to help staff morale and acknowledge the stress of living through a construction project with the noise and disruption and constant change. It is important that staff know the administration understands the stresses and cares. Parties and food help. Celebrate milestones. Before our project even began, we brought in a panel of local librarians to talk about how they had survived and thrived during their construction projects. Staff members were also given their own yellow plastic construction hats.
Purchase large quantities of earplugs for staff and patrons. We quickly discovered that small amounts of dust can set off a smoke detector and sound the fire alarms. Evacuations become a way of life, and the challenge is to prevent staff or patrons from becoming complacent about the alarms.
Part Two: The Construction Odyssey of Swem Library's Special Collections
By Susan Riggs
Due to the phases involved in the construction and renovation of Swem Library, various units of the library and the collections had to be moved—some offices and books several times within the facility. The size of Special Collections (the university archives, manuscripts, rare books, and the personal and professional papers of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger), amounting to about 35,000 rare books and 3 million documents, made it necessary to move those materials and their staff outside of the building altogether.
Temporary records awaiting destruction had long been stored in a Quonset hut, and parts of the archival collections were kept at Swem Off-Site Stacks (SOSS). Meetings began in 1998, and various scenarios for the construction period were considered and rejected. Each suggested new scenario meant that staff had to draft plans to make the proposal work. A happy solution was reached—most of the collection would go to a newly built warehouse-like facility in Toano, ten miles from campus. The Burger collection and its staff would go to SOSS. A reading room was established in Toano. A library-subsidized taxi service transported students and researchers to the site.
The Swem annex in Toano was built out to the college's specifications and the collections were moved under tight security and with close staff supervision from Williamsburg. The shelving was transferred from Swem as well. Shelves had to be cleared of their contents, taken apart, and rebuilt in Toano. The movers raced to have the shelving up by the time the materials arrived. The move took about three weeks. After the move had been completed, buses transported library staff out for an open house, so they could visualize where their colleagues had gone.
There were a number of problems in Toano. Fire alarm sensors read dust in the ducts as smoke. Water leaked into the building along the walls. Birds got into the building. The landlord fixed holes near the ceiling, which eliminated both leaks and visiting birds.
The taxi service to transport the students proved to be a headache. It was not utilized often enough for the cab dispatchers to ever figure out the billing system, and the drivers would try to collect from the passengers. A switch in companies did not help matters. The drivers didn't know where the Swem annex was—one visiting scholar was dropped at the Williamsburg-James City Regional Library branch in Croaker, two miles away. Another student was never picked up. Annex staff had to fetch the researchers.
It was difficult to have staff in three different locations. The head of manuscripts and rare books was in Swem. The half-time rare books and manuscripts assistant curator, who also worked in cataloging, worked in Swem and at SOSS. The Burger staff was at SOSS. Everyone had to come to Toano to work desk shifts. The archives staff, which frequently has to run files to campus offices, was at a disadvantage, and it was often difficult for the annex staff to go to Swem for meetings, particularly if these were scheduled in the middle of the day. Informational Technology (computer) support was harder to get—Toano staff tried not to call them out any more than was absolutely necessary. A major scanning project of Jefferson documents was accomplished, but backing the images up to the Swem server took minutes for each image because of networking difficulties. The undergraduate student workers were another casualty; the distance of the facility from campus made it impossible to arrange work schedules around classes.
But there were good things about being in Toano. Parking was wonderful—researchers loved the parking, and most were pleasantly surprised at the attractiveness of the facility, which was quite comfortable. The staff found new places to eat lunch in the nearby area. Part-time workers and graduate students who were hired were a pleasure to work with. Staff and priceless collections were away from the construction. Most important, the collections had a safe home.
The only big scare was Hurricane Isabel. The facility was not rated to withstand a direct hit by a hurricane. All that could be done was to put plastic from the tops of the ranges to the floor, secure the plastic with duct tape, place sandbags, and pray. Luckily, while there was much damage in the vicinity, the annex was spared. The college had the foresight to put in a gas-operated emergency generator, and while Toano was without telephone and power for nearly a week, the generator ran the HVAC and security systems. All of the Swem staff pulled together to put plastic over the collections and remove it afterward, and college facilities staff were helpful and responsive, as they always proved to be during the four-year stay.
In February 2004, the staff began planning the move back to Swem. The archival collection would be going to compact shelving. This change necessitated turning and relabeling boxes and, in some cases, reboxing materials. This took all summer and part of the fall. Shelving at Swem that had formerly held books had to be reconfigured to accept record cartons, bound newspapers, and elephant folios. The Quonset hut was done away with, and temporary records were moved to Swem. A major record destruction project was accomplished during the summer.
Special Collections closed on October 16. Arrangements were made for William and Mary graduate students to continue research for the rest of the semester. The move began in November and ended in December. First, the Burger collection was moved from SOSS back to Swem, and the remaining materials followed from Toano to Swem.
However, the Warren E. Burger Special Collections wing was not finished when the staff and collections moved back. The ground floor was secure, so the collections were fine, but there was additional work that needed to be done on that level as well as finishing the Tucker-Coleman room—a walnut-paneled room holding the library of the second professor of law. The first and second floors, where most offices would be located, were far from complete, so the staff camped out on the ground floor and monitored workmen for days and days. The Burger office exhibit was built on the first floor, as were the reading, media, and conference rooms. The rare book gallery on the second floor was completed and the exhibit cases arrived just before Charter Day.
Finally, all was finished. Special Collections reopened on February 28, and it looks spectacular. The staff is very happy to be back in Swem Library again and resume making primary sources available for research.___________________________________________
Alan Zoellner is Government Information Librarian at the Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
Kay Domine is the Building Manager for the Project and Assistant Dean of Libraries, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.
Susan Riggs is Manuscripts and Rare Books Librarian, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary.