Missoula Public Library staff donned hard hats and construction-orange Monday as they embarked on the fourth day of the library’s book transfer, moving the library’s entire collection to its new building next door.
Staff drove modified trailers with book carts between the two, keeping the books in order from the beginning of the process to the end. Karl Olson, director of the Library Foundation, said the book move has been a long-awaited step in the overall transition to the new library, under construction since fall 2018.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “This is the first time the staff really gets to interact with the building, and turn it into the kind of place that the community invested in and wants to see.”
Due to coronavirus concerns, the library wasn’t able to use volunteer help for the move. Only employees could work. With more than 100,000 books and just 30 staff on hand, Olson said the work of the book movers was that much more impressive.
“It's quite a process. But that’s been one of the upsides of the pandemic — we’ve had the time to do really thorough planning,” he said.
The transfer began last Wednesday, July 22. Workers finished the general collection in three days, and began moving the children’s books this week. Olson said he expects the entire move to be complete within the week.
This part of the library’s move was set to begin much earlier, but with COVID-19 production delays, the interior of the new building was not ready to house books until recently. Even now, as staff move the books in, construction crews are finishing up the building’s interior.
“It’s been a progressive march toward completion,” Olson said. “But, you know, opening a couple of months later is not the worst thing. We certainly are ready to welcome Missoula, and we know Missoula is ready for us.”
Robert Mueller, senior circulation associate at the library, said the move has been challenging logistically. With books still loaned out throughout the Missoula community and a new “Opening Day Collection” on the way, organizers have had to envision space for books that aren’t physically there.
The book transfer has helped that image move from theory to reality, Mueller said.
“Now that we have some books on the shelves, you can kind of imagine the space functioning the way it’s supposed to. Before that, I couldn’t see it. It was kind of a dead space,” he said. “Now you can totally imagine people coming in, and it looks like an actual library.”
Mueller said the image of the final, finished library has been the most motivating force behind the staff’s hard work.
“It’s something that’s been planned for so many years, and to finally see it coming together is really pushing us to finish,” he said. “We can start to imagine all the new and exciting services we can offer.”
“We need to get through the books,” he said with a laugh.
Olson said the library hopes to open to the public — with coronavirus restrictions — by the end of August.
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