A view of the interior staircase from the IT help desk on the fourth floor
Charlotte School of Law Library opened its doors in 2006 to an inaugural class of 86 students. In the early days of building our library stacks, we absorbed a collection belonging to the Mecklenburg Law Library that was no longer maintained by the local public library system. Our first home for the collection was in a repurposed three-story law office, and, while the building itself was a beautiful Gregorian-style mansion situated in the upscale urban area of Dilworth, it soon was deemed too small to meet the physical collection needs of our exponentially growing incoming classes and subsequent staff additions.
West Side Story
In the summer of 2008, we simultaneously cataloged and processed an extensive collection purchased from the former National Judicial College and packed up house and home, destined for a new location. The space was part of new development meant to bring rejuvenation and urban redevelopment to an area of Charlotte that had been the victim of urban blight and serve as a flagship of renewal for the area.
Unfortunately, soon after our move, the recession hit and the development of the area stagnated. Our law library space on the second floor of this building was designed with little input from the library staff and leadership, and the owners of the building resisted creating an interior that was too specific in meeting our needs. As the years passed, our student body grew to more than 1,500, and staff and faculty grew as well. The demands placed upon the law library’s facilities and infrastructure by this influx of patrons, in addition to our attorney members and public patrons, meant that our space was ill-suited to accommodate such demands.
Moving, Part Deux
In late 2012, we learned that Charlotte School of Law was destined for uptown Charlotte, taking over nine floors of a premier center city office complex, Charlotte Plaza. This time around, we were fortunate to participate in planning our new library, and many of our suggestions were incorporated into the final design. Our main objective in designing the library was to meet the needs of students and faculty alike. We analyzed how our space was currently being used and tailored our new space to increase access and use.
Study rooms in our old space were highly sought after, so in our new space we increased the number of study rooms from 21 to 39 and scattered a number of these study rooms outside the library on other floors at Charlotte Plaza. Many students also appreciated the quiet study space at our old location, so we designated our entire space on the fourth floor as a quiet area. Our reference librarians are highly engaged with our students, so we created a reference hallway dedicated to these librarians’ offices in short walking distance from the reference desk. To enhance collaborative study among students and between librarians and students, we added two distinct Research Zones in the reference area, equipped with computer hook-ups and large monitors.
In order to make all areas of the library easily accessible to students and faculty, we included an internal staircase to connect the fourth and fifth floors. The circulation desk, reference desk, and information technology help desk are all situated directly off the staircase. Focusing on accessibility, we transitioned all of our treatises, state materials, journals, and regional reporters from compact shelving to static shelving.
Free to a Good Home
Although doing away with compact shelving and opening up the library space for our patrons was a welcome change, it did leave us with a conundrum on our hands. Space constraints had been few and far between in our old building, resulting in a somewhat unwieldy collection that had no business moving to our new building en masse. Second copies and non-updated materials abounded, especially reporter volumes, ranging on and on ad infinitum. Once we moved to our uptown building, discard projects would take on a life of their own, requiring use of a freight elevator and possibly even professionals. So, despite the fact that it made our inner librarian bones cringe and twinge, a large number of books needed to be sent away to the “farm” to while away their days in the sunshine, or, more preferably, be rehomed.
Beginning in the 2013 spring semester, we began preparing for our move with a massive book giveaway initiative, reducing our collection as well as allowing us to serve our law student and local legal communities. Over the course of a semester, the library team came together to identify redundant materials, remove them from the collection, and find them good homes. An online database was created via Google, displaying cover art and details of each title. Books were offered in phases, first and foremost to students and alumni as both resource materials and window dressing, well-suited for new lawyer offices, and then to faculty, staff, other local libraries, and the community. Through this project, more than 13,777 books found loving families, with only a few minor hiccups, and we were left with only 2,000 books remaining for the “farm.”
I’ve Got 99 Problems, but My Team Ain’t One
After celebrating our successful discard project, we began planning the spacing and organization of our newly culled collection. We spent days poring over blueprints, wandering the stacks with measuring tapes, and crunching linear feet measurements into calculators. Similar to many other law libraries, our collection is organized primarily into categories, such as regional reporters, journals, federal materials, and treatises, and, within each of these sections, by Library of Congress classification numbers. We also have a dedicated reference section focusing specifically on North and South Carolina law. With two floors and a wide range of shelving in addition to these divisions, simple planning turned into a strange logic puzzle, attempting to preserve our categories and maintain a natural flow of the collection across the floors. Once the final calls were made, we congratulated ourselves and moved on with our regular day-to-day duties.
Our original plan to place our shorter book shelves on the fifth floor to provide a clear line of sight was short-lived. It became apparent that our architects weren’t necessarily familiar with the nuances of library design. The reinforced flooring necessary for taller stacks was only available on the fifth floor, due to the third floor being occupied by a different company, which made it impossible for engineers to reinforce the fourth floor as well. Suddenly our logic puzzle was back with a vengeance, requiring reallocation—meaning more hands on deck, more face palms, and more desperate cravings for margaritas at lunchtime.
The library was the last department scheduled to move on Friday, August 2. However, at this point, both the fourth and fifth floors in our new building were still under construction due to the reinforced flooring required and the labor-intensive installation of the floating stairwell between the two floors. As a result, the library would have to make do with a much smaller temporary space until our permanent location was complete. We rallied and proved our flexibility, rising to the challenge of separating our essential collection for the temporary space and leaving the nonessential materials on the shelves in our old building for the duration of the semester.
A Team in Transition Stays in Transition
August 2 came, and we packed our offices with much fanfare, planning to start work on our temporary floor the following Monday. However, on the way back from a staff lunch outing, management was informed that our temporary library floor was not ready and that our staff would be spread out into unused offices throughout the building for approximately one week. Thankfully, this “temporary-temporary” arrangement lasted only the one week.
In our temporary library space, we proved that we were a team time and time again. We were only in this location for one semester, so the school was reluctant to incur any expenses renovating the floor for such a short period of time. As a result, four members of the circulation staff shared a small work space, all of our technical services staff was confined to one room, and reference librarians were spread out two to an office. There weren’t enough shelves put up for the course reserve collection, one of the doors didn’t even have a door handle, and students were frequently locked out of study rooms due to the way the door locks had been constructed. The library staff had to adapt to tightly packed spaces that housed our work desks, book carts, and overflowing book collection. Students were less than impressed with the temporary library. Library staff frequently had to remind students and faculty that the space was not permanent.
At Long Last, Welcome Home
After the semester closed and the holidays arrived, we went to our homes happily while movers and builders feverishly worked on preparing our new floors, and we were able to welcome in the New Year in our permanent space. Our students, faculty, and staff have all been impressed with our new facilities, and we all believe that it was worth the wait. Finally, we’re here to stay!
This article was featured in the May 2014 issue of the AALL Spectrum, the official magazine of the American Association of Law Libraries.
~Ashley Moye, Brian Trippodo, Erica Tyler & Kim Allman~