Year in the Life: Elizabeth Shulman, Pt. 5

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! In my earlier posts, I addressed some of the issues that exist in my space as a result of the move. The biggest issue we had was how our books were initially shelved in our new reading room. Back when we were planning for the move, the previous head of the North Carolina Collection measured the linear footage we would need in the new space. We sent all of our poetry books and biographies into storage to make the footage work. Unfortunately, she forgot to take into account the height of the shelves when calculating the footage. As most of the shelving we got was used for fiction books, they were much shorter than the books in our collection as well as the previous shelving. The result was that at least half of the collection was sitting on its spines. This made it very difficult for my fellow staff members and I to find books for patrons, especially books that have the same call number (we have a lot of those in the government section). It was even more challenging for patrons. This was a problem that we knew had to be rectified and we calculated we needed to remove a minimum 48 shelves to have the space we needed to get the books off their spines. Weeding the collection was a decision way above my pay grade but needed to get done as fast as we could.

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When selecting books to go into storage, I knew they had to be things we could live without for the next two years. Our storage contract only allows us to recall archival collections, not printed materials. The first items to go were duplicates, things that existed elsewhere in the system. Our IT department gave us a list of duplicates and we pulled them to go to storage. As with the English language, there were a few exceptions to this rule. The first were books related to Durham in any capacity. Our main collecting area is materials relating to Durham and it would be silly to send those books into storage. The second were genealogy books. After local history, our next largest research area is genealogy research so those books needed to be readily accessible to our patrons. The last were Civil Rights books as we have many patrons who research the Civil Rights movement in Durham and around the South.

Unfortunately, pulling the duplicates barely made a dent in the number of books we needed to pull to free up 48 shelves. My next strategy was to pull books that would likely be found at other institutions in the area. Being in close proximity to three major research universities and the State Library made pulling North Carolina government books fairly easy. I also pulled books about the history of North Carolina universities because most researchers would likely go to those universities to do research. I did leave books about Duke and North Carolina Central University on the shelves because they are located in Durham and fit the scope of our collection. I also pulled books about sports, literature, published cookbooks, and history books that were not about North Carolina. For example, I kept Civil War books about North Carolina regiments but not the history of the 1st Massachusetts Infantry regiment. Again, these are books that I felt could be found at other institutions. The only books I made off limits from culling were Durham related books, genealogy books, and North Carolina local history books.

Because of limited cart space and how frequently our couriers could ferry books to the storage facility, it took a few months to pull and send away all the books needed to free up the shelf space. Then we started redoing the shelves. At first, we put books on carts to free up shelf space. We also used the time with the books off the shelves to clean all of the dust off the shelves and dust the books. Eventually due to gaps from where we removed books, we were able to put the carts away and hand books off to each other as we shifted the collection. We made a tool to ensure we left six inches at the end of each shelf so the collection can grow without being shifted. We also left one shelf completely empty at the end of each row. The entire process of shifting took us four days with breaks for when patrons were in the reading room and when our arms got tired from lifting and passing all the books. The motto of that week was SHIFT HAPPENS. Once we put the last book on the shelf, I celebrated in the least librarian manner possible…by running through the stacks whooping for joy.

It’s been well over a month since we completed the shifting project and the change has been remarkable. It no longer takes us forever to locate books for ourselves and for patrons. Patrons can now easily browse and remove books from our shelves. The appearance of the shelves is so much nicer – we actually look like a library. The process isn’t entirely done either. The shelves in our back office where we have yearbooks and rare books also need to be shifted. That will hopefully happen in the next month or two. But this shifting project definitely improved our appearance and our morale.

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