Politics & Government

Library moving 440,000 things, will be ready to open the week after Riverfest

Library moving its books, getting closer to opening day

The Advanced Learning Library is getting the books from the old downtown library moved over currently as they get ready for their grand opening June 16.
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The Advanced Learning Library is getting the books from the old downtown library moved over currently as they get ready for their grand opening June 16.

One of the biggest moves in city history is well underway.

Wichita's new Advanced Learning Library will open June 16 with a low-key ceremony on the Saturday after Riverfest.

The opening of the $38 million library is set for that day because the staff didn't want it to conflict with the festival, said Library Director Cynthia Berner.

The moving of books and other materials from the old library began Saturday and is expected to be finished by May 24, said Kent Hallett of Hallett Movers, the Chicago company that is doing the actual lifting and carrying.

About 440,000 items need to be transported and reshelved. Not only do they have to move tons of material, they have to put everything in exactly the right place so library workers and patrons will be able to find it.

Hallett has broad experience in moving libraries. He said Wichita's is a slightly-below-medium-size job for the company, which has also moved libraries for cities including San Diego, Seattle, and Minneapolis and universities such as Notre Dame and Georgetown.

Meticulous prep work is the key, Hallett said.

"A little over two weeks ago, five members of our staff came here from Chicago to measure and tag and plot the collection so it will all fit on the shelves spread out evenly," he said. "And then myself and my crew showed up and that's our job to get it from the shelf over there onto the shelf over here."

The standard library shelf is 36 inches. The company uses custom 36-inch boxes, so sections can be moved directly from one shelf to another without getting out of order, he said.

Library workers are looking over the movers' shoulders to verify that everything ends up in its proper place. So far, the movers haven't made any mistakes.

"We'll come behind and we'll fix the things that were not in order at the other location," Berner said. "It's not that they're getting them in the wrong order, it's that we started them in the wrong order, so we'll put some finishing touches on that."

The library staff has been working toward the move for the past year, winnowing out old material and correcting shelving errors that had crept in as the old library rotated materials in and out, said Sarah Kittrell, who manages the collections from acquisition to eventual disposal.

"In our current building before it closed, you could see shelves that were very full and shelves that were fairly empty," Kittrell said. "When opening day comes here, all of the shelving in the area will be almost identical, because of the work they (the movers) are helping us to do. And then that lets our staff do a better job going forward, because it's much easier to make sure everything's in order."

The original plan was to open at the new site within 30 days of closing the old Central Library, which shut down May 6.

"We knew that was optimistic," Berner said.

The current plan for opening day is to "break a ribbon and be open for business by 10 a.m.," which will be the library's regular opening time, Berner said.

She said everyone who works for the library will be working that day, hosting "special activities to get people to explore the building."

"This is very much a working event," Berner said.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas