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How do you move a library?

How do you move a library?
Randal Whittington

What goes into clearing out a library?

Austin Seminary has a long-standing tradition to never begin a construction project until all funds are in hand or pledged. The renovation of Stitt Library into the Mary B. and Robert J. Wright Learning and Information Center is no exception. On the last working day of 2019, the final pledge of the required $16.5 million for the project was secured.

We cheered, gave thanks, quickly got out invitations to a groundbreaking celebration, and then promptly went on Christmas break.

Back in the office on January 6—with less than a month to the groundbreaking—the Stitt Library staff got, you might say, a little busy!

Because the renovated library will include more open group spaces and a greater emphasis on digital learning, staff has navigated an intentional process of culling materials. As of January 2020, the Stitt Collection contained 91,140 print books and journals with 112,084 physical items of all types (the Encyclopedia Britannica, for example, is one title but twenty-two items). After discussion with faculty, including an evaluation of projected course offerings and what has been placed on reserve over the past five years, the staff arranged to house what they considered the most essential resources in a “mini library” on campus.John Everett, director of the physical plant, hired the companies who dismantled the shelving and moved the books. All told, they disassembled and moved about 10 tons of steel shelving and filled just shy of 4900 boxes. “I’m sure when they heard more than 90,000 books needed to be packed up and moved there was probably a moment of panic,” says John. “It would give me pause for sure. Day one was all about moving furniture. Kristy [Sorensen]’s carefully plotted-out plan giving instructions on where each piece is and where it should go was exactly what was needed to make sure the day was a success. Days 2, 3, and 4 were all about boxing up books and taking them to their warehouse.”

Several rooms in the McMillan Building (leading us to colloquially refer to the space as the McLibrary) have been repurposed: the lower-level student lounge is now the reading room / reference collection with 705 volumes, computers for student use, tables for studying, and even a photocopier. The racquetball court now houses another 6347 books (and, eventually, the roughly 600 books that are currently checked out!). David Schmersal, access and instruction librarian, offices there and reports that the reference room was almost immediately being used by students taking ordination exams in January.

Also in McMillan are Mandy Deen, learning technologies librarian, and John Vinke, systems and metadata librarian, who are in two re-purposed classrooms they share with 14,089 DVDS, CDs, VHS and audio cassettes, and the microformat materials. Library Director Timothy Lincoln is ensconced with other faculty in McMillan (along with his treasured Where the Wild Things Are stuffed creatures and Nancy Pearl Librarian action figure). After Archivist Kristy Sorensen moved about 850 boxes of catalogued archival material to the records vault in the lower level of the McCord Center, she set up her office in the staff lounge on the lower level of Trull.

Through it all, the library staff took the move and relocation of resources in stride, pushing library carts across campus, almost never complaining. “As of today (if I don’t get too sidelined) we will have already added 82 new print books and 101 new ebooks to the library since we moved out,” says John.

David adds, “We are totally committed to providing students, faculty, and other researchers the sources they need to pursue excellence in theological scholarship, which means if we do not have something in the interim library collection, we will do all we can to provide it (within reason—someone might really need access to one of the actual Dead Sea Scrolls, and I fear that might be beyond our ability).”

Local patrons may borrow books at the McMillan library by sending a list of books to be placed on hold for pick up. More information on accessing the collection may be found here; if you want to communicate with the archivist, go here.

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