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Library renovation: improvement or disaster?

Anyone who has gone into the Branford Price Millar Library in the past several months may have noticed the changes that have taken place.

The remodeling and reorganization project was conceived almost five years ago. The construction began in July 2001. The research center was completed Fall 2001 and the reorganization of materials is still underway. Library staff is in the process of reorganizing the materials into one continuous call number sequence.

The library raised $2.86 million to begin the project. The federal government contributed $500 thousand, $1.43 million came from state-issued bonds and the rest came from donations.

We asked a team of reporters to follow library patrons around on their adventures to find the titles they were looking for.

These frustrated patrons included students, community members and faculty. Some thought the transformation of the library’s book organization system from subject-oriented to A-Z format would be beneficial. For others, it proved to be a hassle to have to run up and down between the floors to get the books they needed on the same subject.

Mike makes library rounds

Art professor speaks out

Professor Jane Kristof of the art department said the renovation has caused her problems. Kristof has encountered numerous problems with the new organizational pattern of the library.

“I think it’s just a disaster,” Kristof said. “Before, everything was on one floor.”

For professors who tend to focus on one area of study, it is a hassle, Kristof said. As she explained, the reference material is on the second floor, painting art material is on the third and general art is on another. The library used to have librarians with backgrounds in these specific topics as well, continued Kristof.

Another problem she has found is that art books tend to be larger than most books. As a result, many of these books are shelved so people can not see the spines or the titles and dates.

“Since you can’t see the title on the spine, browsing isn’t very successful,” Kristof said.

She explained that the WorldWide Expedition catalog, which is organized by the date, is not placed spine out, making looking for a specific issue a hassle.

Library director acknowledges possible shortcomings

Library Director Tom Pfingsten said that he could see how it could be difficult for someone studying in special areas to get material. He explained that the library needs to meet the needs of Portland State’s 20,000 students and the other people who use the library for a variety of subjects.

It will be more helpful once the organization is in a “logical sequence, from A-Z, from the bottom to the top,” Pfingsten said.

Of the two students I followed on their quests to find titles, one found what he was looking for after numerous attempts and the other found an empty space on the shelf.

Freshman fumbles

A freshman theater major, who didn’t want to be identified, was on a search for a peer review article. He made several attempts to find the article. After not finding the article on his own, the freshman went to the help desk. He was first told to go to the fifth floor because the title he was looking for had been moved, but it wasn’t to remain there for long, explained the librarian.

Once at the fifth floor, in the exact spot he was told to visit, the freshman found a copy of the title he was looking for, but it was for 2002 and he needed 1985. So, back to the help desk he went.

“Now let’s see how long it takes to find it,” the freshman said.

Back at the desk, the freshman told the librarian what happened, and she looked again from the computer screen to the purple paper on the desk, which is a list of temporary locations. She then told the frosh that the copies from previous years are kept on the third floor in the library’s southwest corner.

On the third floor in the southwest corner, he found four books that could contain his article.

“It should be in one of the four,” he said.

The freshman thumbed through a couple of them and finally found what he needed.

Community member chooses to go elsewhere

The next quest I joined was that of community member and St. Mary’s Academy junior Emilee Edwards. Edwards was on a search for a critical essay. After first searching on her own, she went to the help desk. At the desk she was sent up to the section, “PS.” Once on that floor, she looked for the paper’s location taped to the side of the shelf with the call number. All Edwards found was a gap in between two other books, where her book should have been. We then went back down to the help desk.

This time a different librarian looked at his computer screen and asked us to follow him up to the floor. On the way up to the fourth floor, the librarian gave us several options as to where the book could be: Either the book was checked out, someone in the library could have it or the book could just be missing.

At the fourth floor, the three of us went to the exact spot we were before, but found no book. The librarian could not tell Edwards where the book could be or even if the book still exists in the library. According to library staff, six to seven and a half percent of the books listed in the catalog are missing, which is the average for most libraries.

Edwards decided to give up and go look in another library.

“This is just a hassle,” she said as she walked out the doors.

Angie hunts with student

Student’s attempts shelved in ‘temporary’ storage

When approached with the prospect of being trailed by a reporter in the library, PSU student Angelo De Ieso said, “I guess, but are you going to help me do research?”

For De Ieso, the prospect of having to go it alone in the library was a daunting one.

Upon entrance into the library, his first guess was to take the elevator up to the third floor, where the humanities section is housed. Little did he know the elevator would offer the most assistance in his endeavor. Instead of getting off on the third floor as planned, he was given the opportunity to see what the second floor had to offer when the elevator made an unscheduled stop on the way up.

The second floor, with its imposing array of computer terminals and an information desk, seemed the place to be. De Ieso began his research by attempting to log on to one of the computers. “Remember when they had card catalogs? That’s how I learned to use the library,” he said. Card catalogs are a thing of the past. Now the way to find a book is to look it up on the Web.

First, however, one must be able to log on to the system. This proved to be a challenge on the first computer he tried. De Ieso was hesitant to ask for assistance from the information counter, citing the all-inclusive reason, “Why bother?”

The first machine did not accept his password, but at this early stage he was undaunted, and the second computer he tried allowed him access.

The computer did not furnish the number of the actual floor that housed the books he found, offering only the word “reference.” Unsure of what that was supposed to indicate, De Ieso took a chance and went to the third floor. On the way out of the elevator, he was greeted with several pieces of paper taped to the wall indicating that “‘ML’ & ‘MT’ have been moved to storage and “B” is now in the basement,” under which someone had scrawled, “for no good reason.” Under that someone else wrote, “to confuse you.” Three of De Ieso’s books were “ML” or “MT.”

“I wonder where storage is,” he said.

De Ieso found the area where “ML” and “MT” were supposed to be, but unfortunately none of the three books he needed were on the shelf. “I guess they must be on the sorting shelves,” he said. Even so, De Ieso could not find the sorting shelves on the third floor. The only thing to do, he said, was try a different book.

Moving down the list to the next book, we headed up to the fourth floor. More signage on the walls indicated “‘U’ & ‘V’ have moved to storage along with ‘J’.” This second book was not on the shelf either, and after having spent over an hour trying to find research material De Ieso’s frustration was palpable. “This is why I don’t come to the library,” he complained. “It takes more time to find a book than it does to write the paper.”

At the reservation desk on the first floor there are signs that explain the process of retrieving a book from storage. De Ieso asked the person behind the counter how to request a stored book. The man explained that all you need is a Library Storage Request Form.

The form asks for name, phone number or email, book information and whether or not the book is in temporary storage or permanent storage. The library employee elaborated on the storage situation, telling De Ieso that the books are housed in a condemned building next to Science Building 2. According to the employee, someone goes to the building a few times a day to retrieve the missing books.

If the book in question is in “permanent” storage, its home is somewhere in North Portland and it takes a bit longer to acquire. If there is a rush for a particular book it seems the hapless student has run out of luck. The outings to storage only happen Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.

De Ieso then asked where the sorting shelves were moved to. The clerk was happy to explain that the sorting shelves were not to be found on the third floor because they had been moved in their entirety to the fifth floor. He said it is more logical to keep all of the discarded books in one place because if a student knows to look on the sorting shelves then there is only one place to go, as opposed to looking on the sorting shelves of every floor in search of one book.

Irritated, De Ieso decided to avoid the Millar Library and use his computer to find the information he needed.

Kevin follows faculty

Professor in School of Education has difficulties

Ruth Falco is a professor in the School of Education. She came to the library to find some articles for a class she is putting together for next term. Normally a graduate student would be doing this for her, but today she decided to brave the library alone.

“I haven’t been here in a while,” she said. “I’ve sent grad students and they have been telling me it’s been difficult to find things.”

I first spotted Falco gazing at an information kiosk on the first floor. She looked like she needed help. Unfortunately, I was in no position to help her, but she was willing to let me follow her on her quest, to mark her progress in finding her materials.

After taking the elevator up to the third floor, she spent some time at a computer terminal trying to track down her magazine article. Printout in hand, she marched off to the rows of periodicals on the third floor. The specific section she is searching for is “LC.” Not finding it on the third floor, she went back to a map posted by the stairs.

“Where are all of the librarians hiding today?” she wondered aloud.

After taking the elevator up to the fourth floor and finding nothing, she walked back down to the third and studied the map again. Deciding it was time to ask somebody for help, she took another elevator down to the lobby and got in line at the help desk.

The man at the library information desk advised her to go to the second floor reference desk.

“I’ve already seen all of the other floors, I might as well go to the second,” she said.

After waiting in line at the reference desk, the man there told her she could find “LC” on the fourth floor.

“But I’ve already been to the fourth floor. Can you tell me where on the fourth floor?”

The man scowled and headed to a computer. After a few minutes he grabbed a passing colleague and they huddled to discuss the possibilities.

“Try the north side of the fourth floor,” they told Falco.

In the elevator ride up to the fourth floor, she expressed concern for her students.

“I feel bad for the grad students,” she said. “They are trying to write big research projects and have been complaining about this very thing.”

On the fourth floor we were approached by a young student who appeared flustered.

“Does anybody know if anybody works here?” she asked.

A 22-year old senior, Tamy Leathers was looking for a book on the Platt River and not having much luck. “Try the reference desk on the second floor,” Falco advised. Leathers marched off to grab an elevator.

Falco was now exactly where the man at the reference desk had told her to go. As luck would have it, a librarian was there sorting books. With renewed optimism, Falco approached the young woman and asked her where to find “LC.”

“No, you want to go down to the third floor,” the girl said.

“I don’t think anybody knows where anything is,” Falco said on her way to the third floor.

She paced the stacks on the third floor looking for “LC.” She was exactly in the spot where the third librarian directed her.

“LA” … “LB” … we were filled with excitement and anticipation at the thought of actually finding the holy grail of periodicals.

Alas, there was no “LC.”

“I quit,” Falco said. At this point, she had spent nearly 50 minutes circling the library, and appeared no closer to finding her magazine than when she first walked in. One last elevator ride down to the first floor, and out the door she went into the cold afternoon.