Sooooo many books: Library staff gears up for next month’s move to new facility

Ask anyone what the most tedious part of moving is and there’s a decent chance they’ll say packing and unpacking shelves full of books.

Now imagine schlepping more than 300,000 books, including 200 rare volumes, along with furniture, computers and other associated media and materials. That’s the task before Long Beach Public Library staff members as they prepare to move to their new home at the corner of Broadway and Pacific Avenue in Downtown in mid July. The library is expected to open its doors on Sept. 21, a few months after City Hall moves to the new Civic Center in late July.

Glenda Williams, the director of Library Services for the city, says there’s more to install in the library, including security gates, automated handling, a large mural, as well as the collection. There’s also an ongoing $3 million Long Beach Library Foundation fundraising campaign geared to provide technology including 3-D printers and adaptive technology for those with disabilities.

Friday was the last day to submit a suggestion for a new name for what’s been known for decades as the Main Library.

The new 93,000-square-foot Douglas fir-paneled library building is part of the $520 million project that includes a new city hall and a refurbished Lincoln Park. It will include 86 computers, up from 60 at the old building. There will also be enhanced facilities for kids and teens, media production areas and a conveyor belt book drop.

The old kids-corner reading bathtub isn’t there any more—it cracked a year or so ago. “It was not a safe vessel any longer,” noted Susan Jones, manager of Main Library Services. But there will be a reading boat for kids, also a submarine and a lighthouse, keeping with the nautical theme.

The new library will have a community living room and social programs and spaces to accommodate veterans, immigrant communities and the homeless.

But first, the move; prep is well under way. “We’re trying to find that snapshot in time” of determining how the collection will fit on the shelves in the new building, said Jones, who is overseeing the move. Books that sat on 4-foot-wide shelves will now be displayed on shelves one foot shorter.

It’s a little more complicated than finding a good spot for the couch. “It’s finding a nice flow where there aren’t strange breaks, to make browsing very easy for the patrons. It’s a lot more complex than you might think.”

Library officials get the keys July 1 and then it’s time for labeling and shelving. Around July 15, the book circus parade begins.

Eastern Van Lines trucks will roll up, and out will come 200-300 giant carts with shelves on both sides, said Jones. “We have a spotter at the old library and a spotter at the new library to make sure the books are taken off the shelf in order. Once a cart is completely full, you label it, put Saran wrap-type wrapping around it and then everything goes through our loading dock over to the new building … cart by cart.”

The rare volumes, including an 1839 handwritten Bible from the Miller Special Collections Room, will be gently wrapped in acid-free tissue in acid-free boxes (acid-containing materials such as those found in folders and other paper can break down, hurting the delicate items) and carefully carted the two blocks north.

An 1839 handwritten Bible from the Miller Special Collections Room. Photo by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson.

The move means the staff will be leaving the concrete Brutalist-style edifice that’s been home since 1977. The old library was bigger, with 135,000 square feet, the extra space consisting of staff and storage space and a 286-seat auditorium. The extra square footage was a mixed blessing, said Jones. “When you have that much space, you tend to keep everything.

And like a lot of moves, there’s eagerness for the new, as well as wistfulness for the old. For Williams, the director of library services, who joined the staff in 1981, it’s the only library she’s known since starting out as a page. She knew where all the books were stacked, so to speak. Williams was familiar with the expansive front entrance, the cylindrical elevator encased in smooth concrete. But there are some things she won’t mind leaving behind.

“I won’t miss the roof leaking when it rains,” said Williams, who lost count of the times staff put out buckets and tarps to catch the moisture. “It did some good leaking last winter. I will not miss that.”

Chairs stacked up in the old Main Library. Photo by Barbara Kingsley-Wilson.

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Barbara Kingsley-Wilson is a full-time lecturer at California State University, Long Beach and an adviser to the campus’s student run newspaper, the Daily 49er. A journalist with over 20 years in the field, she continues to write and spends her summers as a general assignment reporter for the Long Beach Post. When she’s not drilling her pupils on the details of AP style, she’s likely practicing her downward dog or traversing the city perched atop her mountain bike.