ASSOCIATES (vol. 6, no. 2, November 1999) -

This Old Library Gets A Make-over


Jey Wann
Oregon State Library

      Four and a half years ago, I wrote about the joys, hardships, and adventures of working in an older building ("This Old Library". Associates, vol. 2, no.1 (March 1995)). Toward the end of the article, I mentioned that, after years of promises, a renovation was evidently in store for the State Library Building. As I write this, in early November 1999, weíve been under renovation for over a year.

      Weíd been promised a renovation for so long that many of us didnít believe it. But then architects started showing up, and pretty soon we even had a general contractor. When the contractorís trailer appeared on the lawn north of the building, even the most die-hard skeptic had to believe that the renovation was about to begin.

      The actual beginning date was postponed several times. This made some of us return to our skeptical attitude. Iíd begin cleaning up old files; then the start date would move back, and Iíd go back to regular, day-to-day work. But eventually I really did have to dive into the filing cabinet and shelves and decide what I still needed and what I didnít. Since Iíve been in this job since 1983 (the job has changed a lot, but the furniture hadnít), I had tons of stuff to go through. I must admit it was *fascinating*, kind of like a scrap-book. I recalled old co-workers who have long since retired, old programs, problems with publishers that were resolved long ago. I even rediscovered some money: $10 and some odd change in an old blue coin purse that I had somehow inherited with my desk and position. Iíve never been clear exactly where it came from, but I knew I could put it to good use; I contributed it to the Technical Services/Automated Systems pizza feed on the last day of the week we moved.

      Being a sentimental person a heart, I was dreading giving up my funky old desk. Some of the drawers didnít close correctly, and wood finish had seen better days, and the green top was marred from years of tea and coffee cups, but that desk and I had been through a lot together. Iíd been at that desk for most of the best, not to mention the worst, times of my career. How could I see it hauled off to Surplus Property and not feel sad? How could I survive in a sterile, modern cubicle?

      Heartless though it may seem, by the time we actually move, I was so relieved that I watched my good olí desk trundling down the hall on a flat-bed dolly with scarcely a twinge. More surprising still, I really like my cube. Granted itís not a color I would have chosen - but would I have chosen my old desk if Iíd had a choice? My cube is spacious, has room for all my work stuff, and lots of space on the walls for posters and pictures. So, old desk, wherever you are, I hope youíre happy in a new relationship, too, and getting more coffee-cup rings to add to the character of your top.

      Lest you think that Iíve totally lost my sentimental streak, be assured that I still call my car by name (Mr. Micawber), and talk to my bicycle. I think it was the circumstances of the two weeks prior to our move that drove any sentimentality out of my heart. You see, at some point, all telecommunications lines in our end of the building had to be severed. Unfortunately, that happened two week before our new office was complete; we had two weeks of no phones and no email. We could make calls and check our voice mail from other phones in the building, but we felt very much cut off from the rest of the staff and the world at large. Some times we had to go talk to people face to face! Appalling!

      Anyone whoís ever worked in a building thatís being renovated will already know the Three Horsemen of the Renovation: Noise, Dirt, and Smell. Letís face it, the construction world and the library world are not the most closely aligned fields. Weíre by no means an overly quiet library, but people generally leave their power tools at home.

      Noises have ranged from barely perceptible to nearly deafening. Itís not unusual to get the feeling, from the noise and vibrations, that something large and nasty is about to come popping out of the floor or walls right next to your desk.

      Not that all the noises were mechanical; the construction workers provided other noises as well. Throughout the project, weíve had an excellent relationship with the contractorís site supervisor. This came in very handy in a few instances early in the renovation, when someone needed to tell a few people on the construction crew that repeated, loud use of the F word wasnít in the best of taste right next to the Reference Room. During some of the work in the stacks, anything said on any of the 5 tiers was liable to carry to the Reference Room if the speaker was standing close enough to the duct work. One day, several patrons and I had been successfully ignoring the background noise of sawing and drilling. It wasnít so easy to ignore the sudden cry of "Timber!", followed by a loud crash. Another day, I was alone in the Reference Room, and most of the stacks construction was going on in the basement. It was fairly quiet, but then music came floating up through the ducts; a construction worker, whistling "Fur Elise."

      Thereís not much to say about dirt except: itís dirty. Construction is a much dirtier job than librarying.

      Iím a fairly picky person about smells. On any list of Smells Iíd Rather Not Have to Deal With are paint, new carpet, carpet glue, and any number of solvents. All of them have been well represented in the renovation so far. Fortunately, our windows still havenít been sealed shut, so itís easy to get a dose of fresh air when you need one.

      Easy, that is, provided the air outside is fresh. This wasnít always the case when the stacks were being re-roofed. The roof of the stacks is right outside the window nearest my cube, so I had plenty of opportunity to observe the roofing crew, and the smell the sealant they were using. One of my colleagues, working close to the open window on a particularly fragrant day, said loudly "I donít know whether to close the window or just sit here and get high" Ė a remark that sent the roofers into gales of laughter. Actually, the roofing crew seemed like a pretty jolly bunch. Theyíd obviously worked together a lot and had a lot in common, including a taste for heavy metal music. Since my taste in music is mostly classical, and I never listen to the radio if I can help it, I found their heavy-metal radio station a bit trying at time. But it was also funny: their favorite song was evidently "Iron Man". Every time it came on, they cranked up the volume and sang along Ė "Duh duh duh-duh-duh!"

      (Lest you think Iím a horrible stick-in-the-mud, Iíll admit to having sung a few lines of "Lifeís Been Good to Me So Far" with one of the painters in the hall recently, not to mention a rousing chorus of "She Came In Through the Bathroom Window" with the site supervisor.)

      Despite these trials, weíve managed to get along pretty well with the construction crews; we invite them to staff parties, and made a bundle from them at a charity bake-sale in February. Nor has the hospitality been all on the libraryís side. Last summer, we celebrated the opening of the new freight elevator with an official ribbon cutting and free elevator rides. Afterwards, the contractors treated us to excellent barbecued chicken, prepared right outside their trailer, and we enjoyed a pleasant picnic on the lawn. The site supervisor later shared his teriyaki barbecue chicken recipe with us. In addition to the normal cooking instructions, it contained instructions such as "Place apple slices between your toes and stomp around the house saying "I am a vegan T-Rexí". Thereís a reason we all get along well: we share a strange sense of humor.

      The official opening of the freight elevator was fun, but for those of us on the third floor, a more important opening took place the day before: the opening of the third floor rest rooms. We had been without restrooms on the third floor since fall. The only other remaining restrooms were subject to occasional down-time, some random occurrences of strange things falling from the ceiling, and at least one memorable flood. Consequently, we greeted the long-awaited re-opening of the remodeled third-floor restrooms with glee. We had an official ribbon-cutting (actually, it was a garland of toilet paper), and then all trooped into both restrooms for a ceremonial flush of each fixture.

      By the time this article is published, the renovation should be over. Weíll have celebrated the rededication of the building. The new reference room carpet will be free from construction-dust foot-prints. The new reference desk, stained to match the reference room paneling, will be in service. Our rare and fragile books and documents will be safely housed in a new special collections room. The wood paneling and brass in the main elevator will be visible again, not protected by masonite, foam rubber and duct tape as it is now. The original art work in the lobby will be emphasized with new lighting, and the Reference Room and Talking Book and Braille Services office will have new art work. Weíll even finally have air conditioning in the summer.

      The only portrait of an actual person in any of the libraryís art work is a bas-relief portrait of Cornelia Marvin, the first Oregon State Librarian. She looks with interest from a wall in the hall near the Reference Room. Cornelia Marvin was a pioneer of library service for Oregon, reaching the most remote areas of the state with traveling collections and books, and working to insure that Oregonians had access to the information they needed. The role of the state library has changed since her tenure, but the library as an institution, and the building that houses it, is still dedicated to access to information. As we give This Old Library a much-needed renovation, I think Miss Marvin would be pleased.

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