Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Seattle Public Library and K&L Gates Law Firm Library Tours

By Katy DiVittorio

On Friday February 19, 2010 LISSTEN hosted a luncheon and tours of the Seattle Public Library (SPL) and the K&L Gates Law Firm Library. The majority of the students who attended the event were from the Seattle area, but students attended from Portland and one student came from California! The tours and lunch were a great opportunity to meet classmates and learn from professionals in the field.

The students first met for lunch at the restaurant Wild Ginger and discussed their experiences in the program and why they chose to attend SJSU-SLIS. Student Melanie Bottari said “It was great to meet other SJSU-SLIS students face to face. Since the University of Washington (UW) has a MLIS program, I wasn't expecting so many SJSU-SLIS students and it was very gratifying to meet them and hear about their experiences.”

After lunch the group went over to the SPL for the first tour. The tour started with a presentation by Jeff Christensen, Event Services Tour Coordinator, who discussed the history of the library. The 11-floor library was built in 2004 by the architect firm Rem Koolhaas. Building materials from the previous library were recycled and used in the new building. The library has Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification and was designed with growth in mind. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system. A building designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts can earn LEED certification.

The library has a capacity for more than 1.45 million books and materials. There are approximately 5-7 thousand visitors a day and 20,000 items are checked out daily. Currently there are 1 million items in the collection and 9,906 shelves devoted to books. All of those books move around the library in a high-tech book-handling system that operates for the most part out of public view.

The tour group went behind the scenes with Tim Morrison, Operations Analysis and Enterprise Manager at SPL, to see the library’s automated materials handling system (AMHS), which uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to sort the books as they are returned to the library. RFID is being used in libraries to replace traditional barcodes on items. The tag contains identifying information, such as a book’s title. RFID saves time for patrons and staff, since multiple items can be checked in/out at once instead of scanning each item's barcode. It also works as a security device. Once the items are checked out the tag is deactivated, so that it will not set the alarm off.

The library has more than 400 computers for public use and wifi access. Just a few of the features the tour covered included: the Mixing Chamber where staff assist patrons; the Seattle Room, which contains the special collection of materials related specifically to Seattle; and the meeting room floor. The importance of clear signage and building design were emphasized by our guide. Mr. Christensen explained that the library was originally designed and built with very little directional signage. The escalators were also designed so that they skip floors. These design factors resulted in many patrons finding the library difficult to navigate. The library has since added more signs, but some patrons are still confused by the escalators skipping floors.

One of the highlights of the tour was talking with Jodee Fenton, Managing Special Collections Librarian of the Seattle Room. The group learned about some of the challenges of managing a special collection, including digitization, cataloging, and the damage call number labels and RFID tags can have on materials. This special collection differs from many other library special collections in that the public is allowed into its stacks.

After visiting the Seattle Room, the group went to the meeting room floor and was pleased by its unique design. Dark red curving walls met the students as they entered the level.

The group then headed across the street to the K&L Gates Law firm library to learn about law librarianship. K&L Gates is a large international law firm; most of the librarians provide legal and business reference services. Librarians who work in a law firm library have a specific clientèle consisting mostly of the firm's lawyers. This atmosphere is different from a public or academic library where reference librarians will often be assisting a wide variety of patrons. The subject areas are also very specialized, mostly in law or business.

LISSTEN tours provide a great opportunity to meet classmates in person, talk to professionals in the field, and get behind the scenes experiences of various libraries. To learn more about upcoming tours and networking opportunities visit LISSTEN.

Katy DiVittorio is the Reader Services Assistant at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, OR. She has completed her second semester in the SJSU-SLIS program. She is a LISSTEN Board Member and hopes to offer opportunities for students to network.

Photos by PJ Bentley.

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