Elizabeth Shulman is one of our participants in our Year in the Life series, which follows new archivists in their first professional position. We will be following Elizabeth for a year. You can read her previous posts here.
Greetings from the Mallbrary! That is what I have taken to calling my new location as the North Carolina Collection at Northgate Mall is a mouthful. When I last wrote, I was finishing packing up the North Carolina Collection to have our belongings brought over to the mall. In early February, I came over to the mall and supervised the movers as they brought over our furniture and put books on the shelves. During that week and a half, I felt more like a construction site foreman than a librarian. Once the books were on the shelves, I unpacked the archival materials and found new homes for them. Most of our archival materials are living on top of filing cabinets or on wire racks along the back walls of the reading room. The North Carolina Collection also became home to a small circulating collection called the Lucky Day Collection. This is a collection of non-renewable popular books that customers can check out for one week. As of March 3rd, we have been serving the public out of the Mallbrary. While I still do not have a supervisor and my part-time librarian took a new job at another branch in the system, I have a wonderful Adult Services Librarian who is working full-time with me. This will hopefully give me more time off of the reference desk so I can process more collections and do some collection development work.
This move has not been without its logistical issues. The biggest problem that we have encountered is an inadequate amount of shelf space for our books. Before we moved, we sent our poetry books and biographies into closed storage at Duke University. While all of the books fit on the shelves, the shelves were not spaced to fit tall books standing up or Hollinger boxes. As a result, about half of our printed collection is sitting on its spine. Now that we are open to the public again, we have found it very difficult to find books as we cannot read the spines or see the spine labels.
Our solution to this problem is that we are going to send about 20% of the books currently on the shelves into storage. The decision of what books will go into storage is largely mine. My starting place is duplicate books. These are books that exist in a library somewhere else in the Durham County system. I have used my discretion when pulling these books off of the shelves. Some of the books on the list are useful books for our researchers and I do not want to get rid of them just because they exist somewhere else. Books on Durham history, genealogy, or the Civil Rights movement are staying; cookbooks and parapsychology books are going into storage. Once the duplicates are off the shelves, I am going take entire sections of books off and send them to Duke. These decisions have been quite stressful for me since these books will not be accessible to our patrons for the next two years. However, I feel like my grasp of the collection and the standard research needs of my patrons will lead me to make good decisions that will not disrupt my customers’ research.
There have been other issues that arose during the moving process. When we were unpacking, we realized we really should have taken an inventory of our supplies and gotten rid of things we do not use. I think someone packed up 300 blank CDs–something we never use anymore. I ended up throwing away a ton of supplies that we do not use anymore or did not have space to store. I have taken note of this and will get a head start on packing when we return to the new Main Branch.
Another issue was the floors in the Mallbrary space. The previous tenants of this space spray painted positive messages on the floor. The floor said things like “The Zone” or “Be Different.” I thought it gave the place an edgy character that does not really exist in special collections libraries. However, it was decided after our shelves and books were up that the graffiti needed to go. This meant that the cement floors would be sanded and resealed and that I could not be in our space during that time. During the days that this was going on, I was sent to the regional branches of the system and pretended to be a public librarian. I was trained on the circulation desk, the information desk, and sat in on storytime with the children’s librarian. I even signed up a patron for a library card. But the floor project has had some unfortunate side effects for our collection. While the books and archival boxes were covered up during this process, we founding that dust from the sanding did get on our collection. It is very gritty and not good for our books. When we shift our books after sending some to storage, we will have to dust the books and shelves. A hilarious mishaps that happened during this ordeal was that the floor people accidentally epoxied our reference desk to the floor in the wrong spot. We discovered this when I tried to have the movers move it back to its proper place. There is nothing quite like having to call the facilities librarian and explain that the desk is glued to the floor and will not budge.
Having been open to the public for two weeks now, I am starting to see how our trends are changing. The first is that we are getting a lot more directional questions than we did before. Most of these are people who are looking for another location in the mall or trying to find a public bathroom. People also see Durham County Library on our door and think that we are a replacement for the Main Branch. Most are disappointed to learn that most of those books are in storage and that we are the local history and archives department. But we have also gotten researchers too. Last week we had a student doing research on how the building of the Durham Freeway affected historically African-American neighborhoods in Durham and woman doing genealogical research using slave schedules on microfilm. I believe as time goes on, we will see more and more researchers using our location. They just need to find us.
I must admit, it is very strange working in a special collections library in a mall. Walking into the old North Carolina Room at the end of February and seeing it completely empty when I was last at the Main Branch was weird. My fellow librarians also marveled at how strange it was to see the room empty. While I only worked in that room for four months, I felt like I had to say goodbye. I have replaced wood paneled walls and carpeting for cement floor and an exposed ceiling. But I am excited to see what the new North Carolina Collection Room will look like in two years. Until then, it will be life of a Mallbrarian/Mallchivist at the Mallbrary.