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Space Renovations on a Budget

October 8, 2018

“Had we but world enough… and time” – the oft quoted line from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” can often be followed with “and funding”. In an era where many academic libraries are faced with staffing and budget constraints, we’re faced with the challenge of doing more with less. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges we encounter is space. Library spaces get taken over by other departments; as student populations evolve, so do their needs for space. Renovating and creating spaces on a shoestring budget can be achieved!

I am the Director of Library Services and College Librarian (my two official titles among the many other hats I wear) at Valley Forge Military Academy & College’s May H. Baker Memorial Library. While we are frequently complimented on how beautiful our building is, we have also become acutely aware of the challenges of providing 21st century library services in a facility that was designed and constructed in the 1960s-1970s. Yes, major renovations, such as upgrading the IT infrastructure are also necessary, but there are also smaller ways to achieve tangible and visible results relatively quickly, and relatively cheaply.

Here are some tips that have worked for us:

TIP: Assess the current space usage and needs. Our library has historically been for group study, as individual work was encouraged in the barracks (dorms), so our seating is primarily for large study groups (6-8 person tables).

TIP: Use Participatory Design methods to get input from key stakeholders. We found the students wanted the ability to work individually.

TIP: Use resources already available –  in the library – on campus – or locally. Move furniture around – think of supervisory challenges, what students tend to do in different locations of the library. We found a bunch of old individual computer desks, and instead of having them occupy a classroom, we moved spread them out on the upper level of the library – strategically placing each desk (that has its own power supply) by one of our balcony pillars – in an IT upgrade, data drops were added as well – there are now desktop computers available spread throughout the library instead of just in a lab (that’s often booked for instruction).

Repurposed Desks

TIP: Leverage Donations.

  • Because our institution is non-profit with strong community partnerships, we keep in the loop about local businesses and schools upgrading or closing, and are able to procure donations of gently used furniture and equipment. Rather than spend money on a conference table for my office, I was able to find a kitchen table and chairs FOR FREE (Offer Up, Let Go, and Facebook Marketplace are great places to look) to serve the purpose, and provide the relaxed atmosphere I was aiming for to help make students comfortable.
  • TIP: HaveWashington Room a wishlist for things you want for your library; you never know when you’ll be approached by a potential donor! When asked what the library needed, my reply was “space”. We had discovered an old periodicals room that had grown to also become a dumping ground across campus – an entire, existing room, with a lockable door that could easily be used for small group instruction, tutoring, club meetings, etc.! We set about clearing out the space, and our donor funded the purchase of new furniture (group study tables and chairs). Our donor also helped us to name the space, in memory of an old building no longer standing on campus, adding to our institutional history.

Individual Study Carrels

TIP: Make a plan for the library to use the space before weeding to create open space… if there is open space just sitting, it will most likely be occupied before a plan is created for it. We knew that we would be able to spend a portion of our budget on individual study carrels, so we planned out where we wanted them, weeded, and shifted books, allowing us to remove two large sections of shelving to make room for the study carrels.

While it may take a little bit of time, and some creativity, it’s completely possible to renovate and repurpose library spaces on a budget!


Image credits: Dana J Kerrigan, Director of Library Services and College Librarian, Valley Forge Military Academy & College 

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