The Sir Duncan Rice Library at Aberdeen University was a very appropriate venue for this year’s conference theme: New Spaces for Old Books. Over the three days, presentations were given about newly built libraries housing special collections, as well as the refurbishment of existing and historic buildings. Hearing personal accounts of managing and dealing with building and refurbishment work from librarians, architects, and estate managers from libraries and archives all over the UK gave the impression that creating new spaces for the storage, consultation, and exhibition of rare and special material is a big project to undertake, but is definitely worth the time and effort. 

This blog post is written by Philippa Bell. Philippa is Assistant Librarian (Cataloguing and Serials) at the House of Lords. She received Bruynzeel’s 2014 bursary to attend the CILIP Rare Books and Special Collections Conference.

Seeing an example of that in the new Aberdeen University Library was certainly very rewarding. Giving up the day job? Time management was discussed in many of the talks; as a project manager, it seems that those who were seconded onto a building project found the experience a lot less stressful than those who had to also carry on with their day-jobs. As an information professional, who will be using the new space, in whatever form it takes, it is important to be involved with the build at every point in its progression. Many speakers emphasised that it is important not to back down on points which are of great curatorial importance, but to be ready to compromise with architects and contractors. Communication on all levels is vital, and whether a new build or a refurbishment, a great deal of planning, patience and teamwork is involved. As a project manager it is also key to keep your library staff happy, as moves can often be emotionally and physically tiring. Preservation, Preservation, Preservation As a keen advocate of preservation policy implementation, I was pleased that there was a great focus on collection care within the context of providing new library space. Many of the case studies which were presented focused on the need to improve the storage conditions for the institutions’ collections, particularly with respect to the British Standards Institution publications PD 5454:2012 and PAS 198: 2012, which provide guidance on the storage and exhibition of archival materials, and the environmental controls needed for archival materials respectively. These two documents were explained during the final session, which gave the lasting impression that preserving rare books is of the utmost importance at all times, and that protection of a collection is not something which should be compromised. Of course, not all institutions have the physical or financial means to provide conditions which comply in all areas to PD 5454:2012, or to create enough storage space on a single site, and so it was useful to hear what different institutions have done to work around refurbishing and building on limited funding.

Final Thoughts Making notes during the conferenceTo summarise the key points I learned at the conference:

  • When creating a new space, you won’t always be able to get exactly what you want. Project managers should always fight for features they believe are vitally important, but should also be prepared to compromise.
  • high-cost projects are not viable, options such as collaboration, and multi-staged refurbishment projects are worth investigating. Furthermore, new and renovated spaces can often generate external funding.
  • There are sources available to help advise on building projects, and it is always worth consulting colleagues at other institutions who have had experience with similar projects, to give advice.
  • No project will run entirely smoothly from beginning to end; projects are often time-consuming, and involve a major effort from all parties involved. Nevertheless, through the trials and tribulations, improved service provision and a demonstrable commitment to providing more appropriate space for both readers and collections will always be worthwhile.
I would like to thank Bruynzeel and the CILIP RBSCG Committee for giving me the opportunity to attend this year’s conference; it was a fantastic event from which I feel that I profited greatly.