November 1, 2010

Library renewal is almost complete

Boxes of books show some of the work still to be done.

 Hang in there, readers! Our months of library withdrawal are nearly over.

The Racine Public Library adult department is nearly back to normal. Asbestos abated. New carpet installed. Atrium filled in. Books moved back into their new places -- well, most of them.

Darcy Mohr, head of adult and youth services who's in charge of the project, said the library's second floor should be open well before the original Thanksgiving completion date -- maybe in just two weeks. It can't happen soon enough!

It's been a tough two months. I think I've read only two books since the second floor was closed off -- and one of those was a dreary procedural spy novel recommended by the New York Times Book Review (Thanks for nothing, guys!). I actually tried to slog through one of my wife's book club selections. Gah!

But on Friday Mohr gave me a tour of the second floor, and I could see the progress that's been made...  and the library improvements that will make this period of withdrawal fade from memory:

Librarian Darcy Mohr in the new Racine History Room

-- There's a new Racine History Room, full of books by Racine authors, or about Racine, or with some Racine connection. Far more than you would have expected -- including a complete collection of Western Publishing's Little Golden Books  given to the Library by the company when it moved to New York, and from reader donations.

-- There will be a number of new "neighborhoods" in which the Library ignores the Dewey Decimal System (About time: it dates from 1876!), instead shelving books the way most bookstores do: with theme-oriented topics all together. There'll be a Holidays neighborhood, one for Health & Fitness, another for Travel. Holidays, for example, will have books about arts and crafts projects, cooking and history in one place. Travel will have travel guides and language books together; today they are at opposite ends of Dewey Decimal and far apart in the stacks.

-- There also will be a Young Adult area, with shelves of graphic novels, college guides, books on careers.

-- The best improvement will be to the library's magazine collection. New shelves have been bought that will display more than 100 magazines with their current issue cover fully visible, and recent editions near at hand. Say goodbye to stacks of magazine spines! Thus, it now will be easy to stroll past the display and instantly see the covers of Architectural Digest, Car and Driver, Dwell, Glamour, Harper's Bazaar, Maxim, National Geographic, Popular Photography, Redbook, Smithsonian, Utne Reader -- and scores more! -- without having to search through the stacks of back issues for your favorite. I predict we'll all see, and read, magazines we'd never thought would interest us. And, yes, there will be a convenient reading area as well.

The moving and restacking of the library's collection -- some two-thirds of the library's 250,000 books are involved -- has been delegated to Hallett and Sons Library Movers of Summit, IL, which has moved the collections of libraries all over the world, including the Newberry Library of Chicago, with its 40,000 shelves.

On Friday, Jack Hallett was supervising some 20 employees, most of whom were moving huge stacks loaded with books. In a maneuver executed with military precision ten guys attached wheeled metal lifts to both sides of a long row of reference books. On command they lifted the entire row a few inches off the ground, and then pushed the entire row -- rolling on sheets of masonite to protect the new carpet -- from one side of the library to the other.

Hallet, 79, has been doing this since he was a boy He recalled working with his brothers for his father's moving company for six cents an hour and asking for a raise; instead, his father offered to rename the company Hallet and Sons. "We were just kids, and we took it!"

As you'd expect from someone with 73 years' experience, he knows his stuff, down to the smallest detail. He told me our library has 6,300 lineal feet of book shelves -- "More than a mile!" And the long row of reference books the ten movers were muscling into place, "That weighs 4,800 pounds," he said.

I know what you're thinking: What's so hard about moving library books, besides the fact that they're so heavy? Well, generally, librarians want to be able to find a book when the job is over. One of the movers recalled a story from a library that did not hire Hallett, only to be asked by one of its movers, "How do you want us to keep these books in order?" I don't know all of Hallett's tricks, but a careful examination of some of the shelved books showed an extra numerical sticker -- 3571 in the picture here -- that will -- somehow! -- tell movers exactly where the books should go after their move.

In any case, add library moving to the categories of legislating and sausage-making. You don't necessarily have to know how it's done, as long as it is done right. And soon!

It's all about the books you can take home, as these two young readers know.

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  1. Glynnis - you lookin' good! good helper

  2. They've been very good throughout all of this finding books I've requested, putting them on the reserve list, then notifying me when I could come in and get them.

  3. Weren't there any local companies that could have done the moving?

  4. What part of "specialist" don't you understand?

  5. Where in this article is the term "specialist" used? I don't see it anywhere. What kind of "specialist" does it take to move some books? To me, any idiot could do the job.

  6. Very nicely written story. Thanks for the information.

  7. Great news for the 10-15 people that don't know about the Internet and still use the library!