Getting Your House in Order

By: Chauncey Montgomery, Director
Sunbury Community Library


About a month after taking the position as director of the library, I remember one day making a series of calls to contractors to get some needed work done on the facility.  After talking to the second or third contractor, I thought “they never taught us anything about facility management in library school.”  I could tell you about information-seeking behavior, organizational theory, collection development, and even how to set up a basic computer network, but I couldn’t tell you much of anything about boilers, post indicator valves, carpet tiles, nor asphalt seal coating.  Perhaps at larger library systems, a specialized individual with a vast knowledge-base and years of experience fills the position of facility manager, but in small public libraries facility management often falls to directors or assistant directors that have little to no experience with managing a building.


For years, perhaps because of my lack of knowledge, our library was quite reactive when it came to facility management. Our approach was, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” This approach works; however, the result can be less than desirable.  Some building issues may not be causing immediate, pressing problems, but over time can result in an uninviting and perhaps hazardous environment. We experienced this with our carpet. Our carpet started to show signs of wear, but we ignored it (swept it under the rug, if you will) thinking the cost of carpeting would be too much.  One day we noticed that the worn and stretched carpet was creating a potential tripping hazard and we realized that the cost of carpeting would be less than dealing with a lawsuit.  Laying new carpet not only made the facility safer, it also made it much more attractive and welcoming.  


As time has passed and as we have completed more facility projects, we began to experience a couple things. First, every time a project is completed, the results improve the space.  For example, we had some awkward cabinets removed and replaced with some nice shelves and slat wall displays.  The result created a much more inviting and functional space.  Patrons praised us for weeks on the improvement.  People like to inhabit clean, fresh spaces.  


The second benefit we experienced was avoiding the stress of reacting to problems by being proactive in tackling facility issues.  If you improve a space before it becomes a major issue, you have time to research different solutions, talk to multiple vendors, and even communicate with the public. Often times when reacting to an immediate problem, the solution is to replace what was originally there instead of using the opportunity to improve the space. Being proactive about facility issues gives you the time to consider all options.


As a result of our experiences, we have become more proactive about facility issues. We have also been more confident approaching projects that could be viewed as superfluous by concerned taxpayers.  The truth is, the library is a reflection of the community, and we owe it to our communities to provide facilities that look nice and inviting, while facilitating discovery and life-long learning.  Every community should be bragging about the local public library building, whether it is five years old or fifty years old. Being mindful of the facility does not mean that you are not being prudent with public funds, and I would argue that not keeping the building in top shape is being irresponsible.


If you do take a relaxed, reactive approach to facility management, I would recommend that you begin to be more thoughtful and proactive in maintaining the building.  If you are like me and not trained to manage a facility, here are some quick tips to help when approaching facility maintenance:

  • Do a walk through with a critical eye. Look for damaged carpet, etc.

  • If you know a trustworthy contractor, invite them to do a walk-through with you.

  • Ask staff if they see any issues.

  • Ask the board what they would like to see done to the building.

  • Ask the community for their input on building improvements.

  • Make a list of known projects you want to tackle.  

  • Create a capital project fund for the items on your wishlist and complete them as money is available.

  • Always maintain a budget to address emergencies.

  • Visit other libraries to see what you like or dislike about their facilities.


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