May 22, 2018

Make the Right Move

Bill Overton will never forget moving the Morris Library at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. As president and CEO of Overton & Associates, Westminster, MD, he has spent the past 27 years relocating libraries, but this was his biggest job, at 1.6 million volumes.

First consulted in December 2011, Overton had to come up with a strategic plan to move nearly two million volumes around the renovation of the university library by May 2012. The move was a success and took more than a year. Volumes were transferred to a temporary location while others were shuffled throughout five floors. Some were housed on compact shelving in the basement, while some older volumes and journals predating 1995 were moved to a location one mile off-campus.

“Every library and move is like a snowflake,” says Overton. “Buildings are different, the methodology of moving from point A to point B might be different, and clients are different in personality. It’s always a challenge to learn the customer, understand what they want, and really try to figure out the best way to accomplish it.”

Whether it’s a small collection of a few hundred items or millions of volumes, moving for good or temporarily relocating during renovations, moving into a larger space or downsizing, each library move is unique. Packing and unpacking from a typical residence is an often laborious task, yet it is only one small tick on the “to-do” list for a library. There’s measuring, mapping, shelving, tagging, and management. Decisions to be made include whether books should be packed in boxes or on wheeled carts. (When boxed, sometimes collections can get out of order.) If books are on wheels, there must be enough carts and truck lifts available. Add the planning and cost of security and insurance for holdings, especially rare materials, and the scope of the undertaking becomes even greater.

DIY or hire help?

Librarians must first decide if they will move on their own or hire someone to do it for them. Those with smaller collections may decide to enlist librarians and other volunteers to pack and unpack things but may still wish to seek outside expertise to smooth the process. For larger university and specialized libraries, more planning and assistance are needed from a reputable library moving company.

“Everything happens within a time frame, and you have to figure out what that is, specifically if you’re moving into a new or uninhabited space,” says Kent Miller, chair of the American Library Association (ALA) Library Leadership & Management Association Buildings and Equipment Section (LLAMA/BES) Moving Libraries Discussion Group. “You have to create a detailed plan that covers all of the contingencies.”

MATERIAL ASSISTANCE (top l.) A National Library Relocation (NLR)
employee cleans materials before transferring them into a climate-controlled vault at a Westchester County Archives (WCA), NY. NLR’s Brian Mitchell (top r.) hand wipes materials prior to the WCA move, while NLR’s Sean Riel retrieves materials (bottom) for staff to clean prior to relocation

For instance, Overton started work at Southern Illinois by spending a week studying the space and collection before presenting a detailed plan to Susan Tulis, the associate dean overseeing the entire project. The plan incorporated Overton’s three Ms: measuring, mapping, and monitoring. Measuring and mapping a new space help a library decide how it will get everything from point A to point B. They include tagging and other methods used to keep things in order. Libraries must plan how shelves will be filled, to be sure they won’t run out of space or have too much space in a given section.

Carnegie Library Gets a New Home

Though one year is usually enough for a library move, it took nearly three to move the 105-year-old Carnegie Library in Patchogue, NY, to its new home. That’s because it wasn’t just a matter of moving a collection—the town had to move the building itself. In 2012, the 2,300 square foot, 400,000-ton historic library, which sat vacant for 15 years, made its first move from its original location on Lake Street in the New York village to a temporary space in a parking lot some 300 feet away from its future, permanent home. After the construction of a new foundation, the library was moved for a second time this summer, to a spot near the Suffolk District Court.

“The library has been an iconic building in the village and cherished by the community, so the decision to move it was easy to make but difficult to do,” Paul Pontieri, mayor of Patchogue Village, told LJ.

In planning the move, which cost half a million dollars, the Village of Patchogue worked with Suffolk County to find a new site for the library. The move involved developers Tritec, Suffolk County, the Patchogue-Medford Library, and a committee of community members. The decision to move the Carnegie came as construction started on the $100 million downtown redevelopment project New Patchogue Village, a new residential and retail community that would have impinged on the library’s original site. Tritec worked with the community to find a new location for the historic library, and the developer covered the relocation costs, which came to many times the original cost to build the library in the first place.

The library, which opened in 1908, was funded by a $15,000 grant from industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie as one of 1,689 libraries he had built in the United States between 1883 and 1929.

“The building was moved to county property, and the county is now in the process of subdividing the land. Once that is complete, the village will gift the property and the building to the Patchogue-Medford Library,” library director Lauren Nichols told LJ.

The building has not been in operation as a library since 1980; though it was briefly part of Briarcliffe College thereafter, it has not been used at all since 1998.

But that’s about to change. Renovations are expected to be completed in 12 to 14 months, after which the Patchogue-Medford Library will serve teens in that facility. “Our plan is to restore the building to its original 1908 splendor,” says Nichols. “We intend to create a dynamic environment that will address the changing needs of our younger users…. The community response has been resoundingly positive, and it is in fact due to community support that the building was saved.”

Measure and map

It may be tempting to start with a clean slate, but when determining how to organize the new location, librarians should start with how things are handled at the old one. “Understand how the library is laid out, its systems, and understand your objective,” says Ted Isaacson, vice president/general manager, commercial division, JK Moving Services in Sterling, VA. For relocations, Isaacson reiterates the importance of measuring and mapping every working inch beforehand. “When going from an old space to a new space, you want to be sure things match up from the old location,” he says, “so users don’t experience a whole rearrangement of a library they once knew.”

That’s not to say, however, that a move is not a good time to rethink space use. Owing to the impact of electronic resources, many libraries are looking to downsize shelf space in favor of additional public space. When downsizing a collection, it’s important to define the collection prior to the move and decide which things will remain and which will move off-site or be discarded.

Next, libraries should create a “Move Plan” spreadsheet to map out the entire library, determining early on whether there’s enough growth space for particular collections that are likely to expand. Next, they need to compare existing measurements to the new space and tag shelves to guarantee that everything fits the way they want it, whether it runs left to right, top to bottom, or right to left. “It’s a simple process, but it just means measuring twice. You want your collection [to get] filed the way it was in the old library,” says Isaacson.

At Southern Illinois, Tulis incorporated Overton’s “String Method,” a measuring system that involves flagging the first book on a shelf and running a knotted string from book to book to calculate the desired shelf space. “It sounds stupid, because a string is not measuring tape, but you need something easy to work with,” said Tulis. “Now, I have this dirty old piece of string that I’ve used forever.”

Avoid recataloging and reshelving once a move is in progress. Early mapping and measuring go a long way toward preventing this, but accidents do happen. Chris Jennings, VP, Boyce Commercial Services, Seattle, once moved 85,000 books at the Seattle Public Library during a renovation. Truckloads of books were moved into a 30,000 square foot storage facility over a four-day period, but when moving the books from the children’s section, the system hit a snag. Books were mapped to go on shelves left to right, but the librarian had a different plan, shelving books right to left.

“You need to have a definite plan of what you want accomplished,” says Jennings. “Whether you’re moving a collection into another building or incorporating it into a new area or taking a collection completely away, you want to do it as fast and as efficiently as possible, and you’re only as good as the people supervising.”

Eyes on process

To ensure that “as good as the people supervising” is good enough, once all the measuring and mapping are in place, libraries should designate a point person on the staff who will monitor and oversee the move’s progress—and any snags along the way. Tulis knew the importance of a solid team for the multiple moves at Southern Illinois and to help her manage the million-plus-volume move, she assigned several point persons, including a circulation supervisor, a full-time staff for binding and marking, and an additional hand in storage to preside over the number of crates and deliveries across campus.

ALA’s Miller recommends working out a daily schedule of assessing accomplishments, which should be adjusted as necessary. “Whether [doing the] moving yourself or contracting, you need a single point of contact,” he says. “If moving yourself, you have to ascertain where you’re going to get your help. If you’re moving into a new or renovated building, you have contractors, inspectors, and all sorts of security and other folks you have to work with to make things happen.” Insurance should be purchased to cover everything from liability for injuries during the move to damage to older materials in transfer.

Moving the treasures

For sufficiently old and rare materials, a whole separate plan may be required and often becomes the foundation of the rest of the moving strategy. David Pilachowski, college librarian at Williams College, Williamstown, MA, had to move from the university’s Chapin Library to a new location some seriously old and rare materials: the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and other founding documents of the United States. The move involved a discrete plan, heightened security, insurance, and precise temperature controls in the vehicle transporting the documents. “Any move puts things at risk,” says Pilachowski, who transported the founding documents just one-third of a mile. “Distance doesn’t matter when it comes to rare materials. It’s just as important moving one-third of a mile [as it would be] across states.”

In most cases, rare items are dealt with prior to the rest of the collection. When, in a former position, Isaacson oversaw the transfer of rare books and art from the Library of Virginia to off-site storage, materials were wrapped in acid-free tissue paper, and packers wore white cotton gloves. Materials could not be exposed to any acids, and plastic crates were used instead of pull carts. A representative from the library had to ride with the driver, and a security system was in place to track where the truck was going at all times.

BOXES or CARTS? (Clockwise, from top r.) A JK Moving staffer transfers materials via plastic crates
instead of pull carts. Richard Cantwell, project manager at Somers Public Library, CT, packs books on a cart in correct Dewey order. Kalvin Rodriguez at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, NC, loads materials
for temporary storage during the library’s renovation

Time to move

When allocating time for a future move, one year ought to be long enough to get all employees assigned to their roles and to strategize, map, and plan. “The most important thing libraries need to know is what (capacity of move) and whom (contractors, consultants, librarians, volunteers) they are involved with early in the process,” says Kees Edelman, president, Library Services Division, Clancy-Cullen Moving & Storage Company, Bronx, NY. Edelman helped managed a move of 1.5 million of the 2.6 million volumes within the New York Public Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building over a 52-week period. “Libraries are complicated moves,” says Edelman. “The sooner you measure and get experienced individuals involved and up to speed, the better it is for everyone.”

This article has been updated to correct Ted Isaacson’s title and details about JK Moving’s role in transferring materials.

Tina Benitez-Eves is a New York–based writer who has been published in Billboard, Wine Spectator, Revolver, amNewYork, Men’s Fitness, Royal Flush, NY Press, Woman’s Day, and the Village Voice and online at AOL and

vice president/general manager, commercial division, JK Moving Services

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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  1. Library relocation is really a tough job and it also requires extra care. I was wondering if did you hire professional movers or did you just ask help from volunteers in moving the library.