Moving Together: A volunteer partnership is a true win-win

60,000 books.
46 full-sized chairs, desks, tables and shelves.
12 large stacks.
10 full and part-time staff.
8 public access computers.
5 staff offices.

60% less floor space.

Seven days to move it all. 

If you visit your local library, it’s entirely probable that the staff do not all resemble Ray Park and Kevin Garnett. If they do, please let us all know the location of your library and how one may obtain a card. Their greater strength probably lies in research and the acquisition and providing of information. It’s a resource that the public comes to rely upon greatly. Therefore, when the time comes to have to relocate information tools and materials due to a construction project, the public and staff want the least amount of shutdown time possible but with the materials moved as safely and efficiently as possible. And Kevin Garnett is not available.

Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library in Presque Isle, Maine, has been undergoing an expansion project made possible largely by the financing of a generous community donor. The expansion project includes an elevator, making all three levels of the library accessible to mobility challenged patrons for the first time. The first phases of the construction involved laying the foundation for the new addition as well as erecting temporary walls between what became known as "the old part" and "the new part" so that the building could be expanded with minimal disruption to ongoing library services. The expansion project also includes renovating “the old part,” to include more energy efficient climate control, lighting, windows and new carpeting to replace the very old and worn out flooring already in place. This meant a flipping of the library as an entity with construction reminiscent of The Poseidon.

Staff and volunteers rallied to put in long days moving as much as they were able, but the dismantling, relocation and reassembling of professional library stacks, rare book cabinets, staff desks and office equipment by so few in such a short amount of time threatened to be a task so daunting that even if the staff pulled it off all by themselves, none would be left to run the library the next week as they’d probably be in traction.

Enter The Loring Job Corps Honor Guard

Loring Commerce Centre is a business hub located in Limestone, Maine, near the former Loring Air Force Base. One of the many entities located at the Commerce Centre is Loring Job Corps. Job Corps is an excellent program established and overseen by the United States Department of Labor specifically for at-risk youth. It offers successful applicants a place to stay and complete a high school diploma or GED as well as full training in a number of high demand vocations. Job Corps works with area businesses to help fulfill their employment needs as well as provide on-the-job training by placing students temporarily in needed positions, and it also fosters a strong sense of community with the students with public service volunteer projects.

When Turner Memorial Library called Loring Job Corps seeking some volunteer help, Roger Felix responded by offering two days of his Honor Guard’s service. On the first day of the move, over 20 young men and women in military fatigues and an established hierarchy complete with “Yes, sir, Sergeant Major!” It was like having the National Guard suddenly establish that the moving of the materials and furnishings in this library just became Public Priority Number One.

Staff and over 60 kids from the local middle school pitched in to clear books from the stacks and shelves that would need to be moved. The middle school kids set up a human chain across the library and passed fiction books across in a manner so efficient that all of the books landed on the new side of the library--in order.

When stacks were emptied, the Honor Guard flew into action. Stacks must have their shelving lifted out and have the bolts and support fixtures removed. In some cases, the Guard had appropriate tools, and in some cases the library was able to supply some, and even the construction crew was willing to share tools in a pinch.

A beautiful aspect of the Job Corps Guard was that staff didn’t need to stand over them, explaining and supervising each detail of the process. The Guard are no dummies: They have a mission laid out, and it is up to them to lay out the best plan of attack. Orders are issued and followed. A great deal of creative thinking and elbow grease went into the move.

Some plans for moving larger pieces evolved as one day moved into the next. The first idea to move a stack involved keeping it as much intact as possible, theoretically as a time saver. At five bays’ length, the end result resembled a Darth Vader-led invasion of Imperial Land-Walking Centipedes. The Imperial Stack-i-Pede paused every few feet, reassessing--perhaps expressing a few regrets about this experiment--but surely landed in its intended location. The next several stacks were completely disassembled, moved, and reassembled like the proverbial well oiled machine.

Desks, conference tables and heavy yet delicate furnishings were moved without question, without complaint -- and without damage. By the end of Day Two, staff were enormously grateful for the help and very sorry to see the volunteer troop go. Staff were in for a surprise.

The troop asked if they might return on a third day later in the week. Not only were they not complaining about the work; they loved it! During a break in moving, some of the Corps browsed through their favorite genre of books. A few were delightfully surprised to discover that the Youth Librarian was developing a growing collection of popular manga.

When Job Corps returned on their third day, even the construction workers were impressed by the progress being made. A very large wooden shelf used to house over-sized books needed to be moved from the main floor of the library to the mezzanine, which was effectively becoming the third floor. The problem was that the shelf was too long to fit in the elevator or up around the stairwell, and it had been put together in such a way that it could not be disassembled. The Corps were not deterred. They came back with a plan to hoist it straight up over the railing into the mezzanine.

The construction crew paused and gathered ‘round for this one. No way, they thought. So many things could go wrong; The shelf could drop; the railing could give way. But not under the Honor Guard’s watch. They came together as a team and the shelf was successfully hoisted up, over, and in one piece.

The payment for all this? It’s just part of what they do. But these young men and women were also delighted to learn that they would be able to sign up for a free library card.

You mean we can come in here whenever we want? And, like, check stuff out?”

Indeed. The queue to sign up for a card formed immediately.

Whether the reward for all this was greater for the library or the Corps is philosophical, but the community had its library back open and ready to operate on schedule. The construction crew was able to start their labors on the old side of the building. And at least one fine young citizen in fatigues went out the door with a smile on his face and some well earned manga tucked under his arm.

Lisa Neal-Shaw

Reference Librarian

Mark & Emily Turner Memorial Library, Presque Isle, ME

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