If You Build It They [Really] Will Come
by Mark Y. Herring (Dean of Library Services, Dacus Library, Winthrop University) <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I have never liked Kevin Costner so to begin with a famous line from one of his movies is a bit odd for me. I know many like him (my wife even ran into him at the Vietnam Memorial many years ago) but I always found his movies overdone. Waterworld, I believe it was called, lasted about half a week, didn’t it? I don’t mean at the theaters, I mean at one showing. That was one long, interminable movie! Even so, abusus non tollit usum, as they say. Abuse does not abolish use, so I’ll use the line.
Besides, no other line would do in this case, and this story will tell why.
For those of you who know Dacus and Winthrop, you know we’ve been talking about a new building for some time now. Depending on who you ask, we’ve had it “on the books” for about two decades, give or take a few years. But this is South Carolina and the wheels of justice grind ever so slowly. After several very valiant attempts with our legislature, we realized that a new building would not materialize soon. Meanwhile, Ida Jane Dacus, now 44 years old, was beginning to show her every line and wrinkle. We had to do something. Over the course of my fourteen years here, we had made several peripheral changes but even those had gone stale. The time had come for something more dramatic.
We began with our students and our faculty and staff, asking them what they wanted in an upgraded building. Our survey produced surprising returns with more than 400 from students and about 100 from faculty and staff. All wanted basically the same things, though students prioritized them quite differently. In the end we had six major changes both groups wanted: 24-hour access (students’ number one priority), group study and meeting rooms, updated smart technology, individualized study rooms, a newer, fresher look, and a café. While we did not get the café (it ended up costing too much) we did manage all the others in some form. We even added a presentation room along with the other six group study rooms.
Our tireless building committee worked on four or five iterations of changes. We had to come up with a design that not only met students’ needs, but also did more than merely window dress. If you work on an academic campus, you know that you stand in line for major fiscal changes. While the library has always been treated with the utmost care and concern, we were looking at an almost seven-figure upgrade. Add to that the change in our Pettus Archives from the basement of Dacus to its own facility and you have our dilemma. Our case had to be a good one to get the prioritized funding. Changes around the edges would never have worked.
After many months of study and deliberations, discussions, and, yes, even arguments, we came up with what we thought was a good plan. Everyone signed off on it and we were on our way. Well, that’s not quite right. Not everyone on staff was fully on board. Admittedly, the changes were radical. For example, the Information Commons would contain both reference and circulation. Not everyone was sure that (or anything else) would work. Further, some were not at all sure that it was even a good idea. But the limits had to be pushed and so we pushed forward. Amid some shaking heads and a few wagging fingers, we forged on. You can view our weekly progress here as we chronicled it with pictures, words and updates.
Our library faculty and staff rallied to make all this happen. Get this picture in your mind’s eye. We had to close off almost half our building, including the part that just so happens to coincide with the main entrance to the library. The renovations were estimated to take about sixteen weeks. Summer session was already on us. In order to finish on time, we had to stay open and get this work done. We redesigned our main entrance to open on the opposite side of the building, added a few other tweaks and hoped for the best.
We could not have had a better contractor than the Holden Company. They worked as indefatigably as did we to make all this happen and it did, on time and at, if not under, budget. Holden put up with a lot, not only from worried staff about individual pieces of the puzzle, but also with a dean who kept looking at his watch and reminding them that fall session would be upon us sooner than they thought. Would they complete it on time? A few finishing touches occurred the week school began, but about 98% was completed on time.
As you can see from the pictures on our site, it proved to be a marvelous transformation. We held an open house, gave away prizes and had a few contests. More than 1,100 students came to see us during our four hour open house. Everything seemed like it had been a success, but had it really, and for how long?
I can safely say, after a semester of being open, that the changes have been wildly successful. Our occupancy rates are up an average of 25%, reference inquiries are up more than 50%, and student usage up more than 30% overall. We are now open from Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and do not close the building again until Friday at 9:00 p.m. We open again Saturday at noon, close at 6 that night, and Sunday begins the cycle again. The 24-hour access is restricted to the main floor only after midnight. Fridays and Saturdays had always been our least busy times, so we felt the need to be open 24-hours then unnecessary. Our technobooth rooms are in constant use, and the 44 public terminals we offer (40 PCs, 4 Macs) are generally fully engaged by about 10 a.m. That use does not diminish until after 2 a.m. We have been most surprised by the use from 2 a.m. until 7:30 a.m. I felt that students would come in during exams but not until then. That proved true, but students showed all semester long. We have between 100 and 150 in the building until 2 a.m. After that, it begins to drop off until about 4 a.m., when usage may fall to only a handful. Surprisingly, it picks up again about 6:30 a.m.
Students have told us again and again how happy they are with the changes, and many of their comments have been unsolicited. They like everything. Well, almost. They’d like us to open all the floors 24-hours but we simply do not have staff for that. We have trouble enough doing what we’re doing now. Still, it’s something we’ll continue to monitor. They love all the new technology, too, from the scanners to the iPads, to the MacBooks, and so on.
Of course, we’re more certain than ever if we built a new building, they would come to it, too. While we’re delighted with the overwhelming reception of the renovations, all of us are a little surprised how intensely successful they have been. We hoped they’d like the completed project but none of us thought the reception would be this overwhelmingly positive.
At the beginning of this semester, a student who graduated a year ago before all our changes began dropped by. I happened to be at the front desk. When she walked in, her mouth literally fell open. She was thrilled and excited by it all, and only sorry we could not have done it earlier.
In the end, if you build it, they really will come. And they’ll keep coming back, over and over again.
Author’s Note: You can see from the pictures loaded on our Website that this proved to be a marvelous transformation. — MH
Leah was appointed Executive Director of the Charleston Conference in 2017, and has served in various roles with the Charleston Information Group, LLC, since 2004. Prior to working for the conference, she was Assistant Director of Graduate Admissions for the College of Charleston for four years. She lives in a small town near Columbia, SC, with her husband and two kids where they raise a menagerie of farm animals.