Zimmerman Library, University of New Mexico

Albuquerque, NM

Zimmerman Library, the largest academic library at the University of New Mexico, needed experts to help with their very specific storage and access needs. Improve Group got it done.

Zimmerman Library is the largest academic library at the University of New Mexico. Built in the early 20th century, it has been in a constant state of change since it first opened. In addition to storing normal academic collections, it is also the home of UNM’s Center for Southwest Research and serves as the region’s government document repository (GID), which means it stores all the federal government documents in New Mexico. Beyond those primary tenants, Zimmerman also holds the University’s official archives, which date back to 1889.

As the many collections at Zimmerman have grown, the extra storage space needed has been handled by loading collections on the shelves of many of the floors based on where there are open shelves, not based on what would provide the best preservation environment or the best organization for the collections. With this “organic” approach to the collection’s growth, portions of the same collection ultimately ended up on different floors of the library, and the bulk of the library’s rare book collection was stored in the tower levels of the library, which provided no humidity or other environmental controls. In addition, in the year 2003, there was almost no empty storage space remaining, and the library lacked people work space for the research and preservation activities that were occurring on an ongoing basis.

To provide additional storage space for future growth and to consolidate storage areas to allow more floor space to be devoted to people space, the library made the decision to convert the static library stacks in the basement levels of the library to high density mobile storage. While the end result would be an incredible step for the library, there were several significant challenges to this solution. Because the stacks of shelving were currently in use, and the high density storage units would use the same footprint, there were difficulties in coordinating the unloading and temporary storage of the collections, disassembly of the shelves, installation of the high density storage units and reloading of the shelves. The construction of the library also prevented the floor from being penetrated, which would normally have been required in a high density storage installation.

Since portions of most collections resided in different physical spaces, volumes were reshelved many times out of one collection and into a new, corrected location. This caused the installation crews to be working on several locations simultaneously.

Improve Group worked with the Zimmerman team to develop high density shelving floor plans that would provide maximum capacity in each of the storage areas while ensuring that the end result would provide the best preservation environment for the collections. Available storage space increased by more than 40%, and work space was opened up in the basement levels to allow preservation and manuscript processing to occur in the same area where the collections were stored. The space planning not only took into account where each collection should ultimately reside, but it also determined how to reuse existing shelving equipment to lower the overall cost of the project to the university.

Once space plans were consistent and the project was awarded through an RFP process, detailed project planning and collection mapping had to occur so that each step of the installation could be coordinated. It was not only important that collections be unshelved and then shelved in the exact correct location and at the correct time, but special care had to be taken because many of the collections were rare and very valuable. An entire project plan and collection map was developed prior to any actual work being performed so that bottlenecks and other challenges could be anticipated and resolved without increased risk to the collection. The collection was mapped down to each series and shelf so that there would be confidence that each volume in the collection was moved.

At the same time, the team worked to develop a solution to the fact that the floor could not be easily penetrated. In working with Spacesaver, a new rail system was developed and used that would allow the rail systems to be installed and secured with a high strength epoxy instead of concrete anchors. This allowed the rails to be installed without any penetration of the floors. This new rail system did require that concrete be used between the rails to provide sufficient lateral stability. The need to use concrete between the rails created another challenge. It meant that concrete would have to be pumped hundreds of feet and three stories underground to get to all of the systems. In addition, since the floors were already loaded with collections, the concrete would have to be poured right next to loaded shelves. Even though it was risky, this approach was required if the project was going to be completed as planned.

As the work commenced during the next six months, each volume in the collection was often moved several times to allow the new shelving systems to be installed. Improve Group worked in concert with the Zimmerman support staff, the library book moving company, the concrete company and the general contractor working on the building remodel to ensure progress continued safely and on plan. Book relocation teams temporarily relocated volumes to allow the storage system installation crews to disassemble shelving and prepare for rail installation and concrete to be poured in each area. As systems were installed, the book relocation teams could transfer the collections into the new systems. The work was similar to a sliding number tile puzzle since only small portions of the collections could be moved at the same time. It was only through detailed project planning and management that the project could stay on track. Throughout the project, the library staff had access to the entire collection, so at no time was the library’s service disrupted.

In the end, collections were consolidated into the correct groups, more storage and people space was created, and the original requirements of the project were met, allowing the university to continue to provide world class service to its students and faculty. It’s still Zimmerman Library … improved.

Now THAT’S a Better Way!