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Seattle University


Life in the Interim (Library)

Written by Mike Thee
October 28, 2009

It’s a strange existence for the Interim Library staff. They are caught between the familiar and the unknown in a place that is home for now but won’t be for long. Yet with the opening of the new McGoldrick Learning Commons and the renovated Lemieux Library just 10 months away, library staff are adjusting to their temporary space on 14th and Columbia without getting too comfortable. It’s a multi-layered challenge, says University Librarian John Popko: To make the Interim Library as functional as possible and the staff as productive as possible while preparing for a new era in McGoldrick and Lemieux that will change the services offered and the way staff interact.

To be sure, there have been some logistical challenges to deal with in the current space. Most of the staff are situated on the second level, separated from the main floor by a secured door and elevator. When visitors want access to these employees or this space, they must now call the staff on the red telephone located near the main entrance and be escorted to the 2nd Floor offices. This separation of library staff from their users and colleagues can be annoying. Although there is a Research Assistance Desk on the 1st Floor, the separation of staff between this desk and their 2nd Floor offices has disrupted their typical collaborative approach to reference and research assistance. 

To resolve these sorts of quirks, the librarians are forced to be imaginative with personal interactions, telephones and online technology. “We’ve figured out some workarounds,” says Judy Solberg, director of instructional and public services, and many of these, she says, will serve the staff just as well in the new library and learning commons.

Popko agrees, expanding on the point. “We’re using our sojourn to the Interim Library as an opportunity to reevaluate the things we used to do and the way we used to do them in the old building,” he says. “We’re in the process of repositioning ourselves and redesigning our work in anticipation of the new facility, and much of that future is expected to be online.” 

The challenges of the Interim Library have also made the staff more creative in responding to students’ needs. In an effort to maximize every square inch of the space, the staff solicited student input on how best to utilize an instructional room when classes aren’t in session. The rules on checking out laptops are being re-evaluated. “With fewer seats in the Interim Library, we’re exploring the possibility of allowing the laptops to be checked out for longer periods and taken out of the building,” says Popko. “We’re working through some logistical matters, but in principle we’re ready to let them leave the building so that this popular program can be even more useful to students.” 

But the true test of how well the Interim Library is meeting the needs of SU students, Popko says on this early October morning, will come during peak study times like midterms and finals when 600-plus students who normally used Lemieux vie for the 140 study spaces in the current building. Popko credits Michele Murray (assistant vice president of student development) and Chuck Lawrence (associate provost) for opening additional study spaces in Pigott and elsewhere on campus to help meet the demand.

As for faculty patrons, reaction to the Interim Library has been mixed, says Solberg. Some have told her the library feels “a million miles away,” while others like the convenience of ordering materials and having them ready to be picked up, a necessity given the library’s space constraints.

To help student and faculty visitors navigate the ins and outs of the Interim Library, the staff are maintaining a very active presence online. A host of multimedia resources can be found at assist patrons with their study and research needs. There’s even a video to help guide them to the building on Columbia and 14th .

All in all, Solberg says the staff are “making due” in their current home. She’s noticed a change in how they  interact as they work in tighter quarters than they were used to in the more sprawling Lemieux.

Popko concurs:  “Working in closer proximity than in the past and with sound carrying freely throughout the work areas, many staff have a new appreciation for the unexpected personal styles of their closest colleagues (wink, wink).”