by Sharon Redgrave
When the library was built in 1959 and then extended in the late 1960’s, talk of mobile phones, computers, eBooks, the Internet, and such like would have seemed like the stuff of science fiction. But in 2012, the world was a very different place. This was the year of the London Olympics. We had our Apple iPhone 5 or Samsung S3 and our computers were running Windows 8. It became clear that the library needed to be brought up to date. The furniture was past its best. We had one printer on each floor and two on the ground floor. The printing came out automatically. At assessment time, there was a scrum of people at the printers trying to retrieve their work. There were very few electrical sockets in the library. Members of the shelving team were constantly faced with trailing wires at knee height all over the library floors as students plugged in their laptops. The floors in the tower block were crumbling with several potholes down some of the aisles.
Work began in the summer of 2012. We started by moving all the closed run journals from the basement and the floors into some unused buildings on the west campus. A removal firm was brought in, and a plan was put in place for everything to be packed up in classmark order. Items of the same classmark were picked from the basement, collected from the floors, and boxed up together and put into storage. Once the redevelopment was complete, it would then be a simple process of having the stock returned to the library and being able to put it straight back out on the shelves in classmark order. How wrong we were!
The closed run journals were moved to another building using a conveyor belt. This process was short lived once the Health and Safety team saw the conveyor belt balanced on pallets. In July 2012, work began on moving all the books from second floor east and re- shelving them on the seventh floor. Working in teams, trolley loads of books were shuttled from floor to floor
On 6th August 2012, back-office staff moved out of the library to temporary accommodation in Salmon Grove. The frontline customer service staff stayed behind to experience what it was like to work on a building site. The library remained open throughout this time. It was cold, it was dusty, and it was noisy. There wasn’t any heating in the building and due to several walls being missing, the temperature was often as low as 8 °C. Staff could often be seen sporting woolly hats when working at the reception desk. There was a large fan to disperse the copious amounts of dust in the air. Walls were knocked down around us, sometimes with concrete falling unexpectedly. Some new choice language was heard, which on occasion came over the tannoy or echoed round the silence of the Reading Room when the drilling stopped but the workmen carried on shouting.
The evacuation of the library became a matter of routine as the fire alarm went off on a near daily basis, often more than once a day. Pipes leaked all over the pamphlet stock that had been moved to what was thought a safe location. A hoist was attached to the outside of the building to allow the easy delivery of building materials. It also allowed the easy access of pigeons.
All of this happened around our students continuing to use the library.
A decant area, often referred to as “the decadent area” by some of our students, was created on the ground floor for us to store books from the floors in the tower block.
In late August 2013, the books started to be moved to the newly created Reading Room.
A few weeks later, the third and fourth floors reopened. Meanwhile, books from the second, fifth, sixth and seventh floors were moved to the decant area.
In December 2013, the new first and second floors of the east building were opened. By April 2014, all the floors in the tower block, except the first floor, had reopened. Finally in August of that year all the work had been completed. The library was officially opened on 15th September 2015 by the then poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
Although it was not easy working in the library during this time, the camaraderie in our team is something I will always remember. I wish I had kept a daily diary of the events that took place along with daily photos. It would have been a good way to document all that happened. Finally, we have library that is fit for the 21st century. Our students can plug in their devices in numerous sockets in the building- even our furniture has plug sockets. We have super-fast Wi-Fi, printers throughout the building and more computers than ever before, laptops that can be loaned, a silent study area, group learning rooms with large computer screens, a postgraduate lounge, a Rare Books Room, a large cafe and an art gallery. It took a while to get there but it was worth the journey.