Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1998

Conference Reports

College Science Librarians Discussion Group

Kathleen Kenny

Notes from meeting at ALA Annual, June 28, 1998

Twenty-two science librarians from colleges and universities gathered for the STS College Science Librarians Discussion group at ALA on June 28,1998 to talk about designing or adapting buildings to achieve flexibility, especially for technological change.

Discussion leaders were Rocco Piccinino of Smith College, whose Science branch library opened in 1991, Suzi Cole of Colby College, in charge of the campus Science library in a Science Center opened just over a year ago, and Madeline Cohen of New York Public Library's Science, Technology & Business branch. All three speakers stressed the importance of librarians' staying fully involved in the planning process.  Particularly when the library is part of a larger building, librarians must maintain control of the library portion while keeping up with plans for the rest of the project that could affect the library (such as the placement of water pipes for labs on the floor above library stacks).

Involvement of all branch library staff is very important. Although public spaces and the stacks are the most important elements of a design, it is necessary to give staff work areas sufficient attention, as staffing patterns are bound to change over the life of the building.

Rocco pointed out some major elements that should be executed correctly including sufficient assignable square footage, correct ceiling heights, floor load bearing suitable to accommodate expanded stacks, and placement of restrooms and stairwells where they won't interfere with future adaptations of the building.  These features are nearly impossible to change once the final plans are drawn. On the other hand, Suzi pointed out that small but significant errors may creep into shop and electrical drawings, and she found that time spent reviewing these details was very beneficial.  All three librarians noted that the placement of electrical outlets and data ports is extremely important, and they suggested that more is better.  Any reductions required in the numbers of these should be done very carefully.

The same is true for wiring within the building, because it is impossible to predict accurately the number and type of connections that will be needed over the a building's lifetime. At New York Public, wiring was installed under a raised floor; at Colby every study space and staff work space was fully wired for data and electricity so that almost any future floorplan will be wired adequately.

At Smith and Colby, cutbacks after the initial design forced compromises to the library stack space.  In both cases the librarians chose to get more compact shelving than originally requested, so that there would be sufficient growth space for the collections.  Furnishings and equipment are relatively easy to add or correct after opening day, even though design teams direct much of their attention to these elements.

Rocco appeared to sum up the feelings of most of those who have been involved in a building project when he suggested that the best principle is to plan for change, but be sure you have the building you want on opening day.

Thanks were expressed to Helena Warburg, the out-going co-chair of the group, for fine and creative leadership!


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