Moving is always a trial, but try moving 330,000 books, videos, magazines and CDs -- plus the shelves they're stacked on and the computers that keep track of them -- all in a way that will allow retrieval of any item within 24 hours.
That's the job faced by Liz Lancaster, manager of Howard County's central library in Columbia's Town Center, as she prepares to empty her 19-year-old building for a 15-month, $5.1 million top-to-bottom renovation.
"Everything has to leave the building," she said during a recent tour -- from the brown carpet squares on the floor to the dusty air ducts suspended from the second-floor ceilings.
But all the library materials that are moved are supposed to be available to patrons at the other county branches until the building on Little Patuxent Parkway at South Entrance Road reopens next year.
The county had hoped to rent enough office space nearby for temporary library quarters but had to abandon that idea when not enough space could be found. Plan B is to move all the materials to the county's mostly empty former AlliedSignal Building off Route 108 and direct patrons to the east Columbia library, about two miles away.
A Columbia resident, Lancaster said she is "disappointed" at having to close completely for so long but that there wasn't any choice. "I like the everyday contact with the public," she said.
In addition to monitoring the renovations and keeping track of materials, she will help supervise her staff, dispersed to the county's other four branches. A fifth branch, in Glenwood in the western part of the county, will open June 27. The other branches are in east Columbia, Ellicott City, Elkridge and Savage.
Her feelings about the changes are mixed. "It will be a nicer place to come back to," the 13-year manager said, describing a roomier first floor, equipped with all the modern necessities.
And new patrons are expected, too. Work is set to begin this month on a 531-unit luxury apartment complex behind the library. The first units will open in June 2001, said John Wallenstrom of Archstone Communities of Denver, the builder.
Inside the refurbished library, a gourmet coffee cart and cafe-style tables and chairs will be the first thing people see when the building reopens, probably late next summer.
Next, Lancaster said, patrons will see the checkout counter moved back against the wall, with a place right by the door to drop off books that are due. Inside, the first floor will be more open, with several walls and offices removed, a larger audio and video display area and a glass wall facing Little Patuxent Parkway extended about 10 feet. Altogether, 2,200 square feet of space will be added, officials said.
The two information desks -- one for children and the other for adults -- will be combined,
Lancaster said, and the children's section will trade places with the fiction and young adult sections.
Upstairs, the periodical and the information desks also will be combined to save space, and the often worn chairs, several with stuffing falling out, will be replaced. The library will have more computers, organized more efficiently, said Brian Auger, assistant library director for administration.
"It will look more cohesive," Auger said, recalling that when the building opened, microfiche film readers were the highest technology available.
Most of the improvements won't be obvious -- from a new heating and air-conditioning system to new windows and yards of high-speed computer wiring to prepare the building for the next wave of technology.
Unaware of closing
As Lancaster described the changes to a visitor last week, Bruce Hill, 42, of Laurel sat nearby, engrossed in researching colleges his daughter might want to attend. Despite two large cardboard signs in the building announcing the May 31 closing, he, like five other patrons interviewed, were unaware of it.
"I missed it," he said about the sign next to the front desk. "It's not good at all. It's a pretty decent inconvenience." Hill said he often stops in between seeing clients in Columbia.
Nearby, Hyeon Joo Lee, 32, of Columbia said she, too, was surprised at the news, but she is not disturbed. The east Columbia library is only two miles away. "I don't mind; that building has more space," she said.
But downstairs, in the children's section, Sonia Singh, 37, and her son Anmol, 5, a kindergartner at Columbia's Bryant Woods Elementary, were upset.
"I love this place," Singh said. "All of our needs were met here."
The central library is a convenient weekly stop between Anmol's school, The Mall in Columbia and the family's home. The library is so close, "you can walk," she said.