Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Building Relations to Maintain a More Effective and Efficient Library Building

Planning, Prevention, and Proactive Repairs Prevent Costly Surprises

Maintenance construction sigh with crossed hammer and wrenchSometimes it is easy to overlook or take for granted the library building during the annual budget process. Past practices, assumptions, and ad hoc relationships with vendors or the municipality and its crews may comprise a patchwork of such services as snow clearing, mowing, basic repairs, and even cleaning services. But it is good practice to review those agreements or relationships periodically, determine how they are budgeted, who is paying for them, and, when possible, establish a more formal agreement to ensure that no surprises or abrupt changes will disrupt library operations or services in the future.

Library Trustees have a responsibility to ensure that the library facility is well maintained and refreshed periodically to make it both a functional space as well as an attractive and inviting environment for the public. Safety issues should be reviewed regularly, and the layout of furnishings and services should be reviewed with an eye to accessibility for those who may have physical limitations or difficulty navigating into and around the library. Library buildings that are outdated, worn, unattractive, poorly maintained, overcrowded, or inefficient can have a negative impact on the public, discouraging use as well as public support.

Pixabay image of boiler controls and pressure indicator
Pressure indicator, courtesy of Pixabay
The mechanical equipment should be inventoried and assessed both for preventive maintenance and any required checks and maintenance for public safety (e.g., elevator, fire extinguishers, alarms, and sprinkler systems maintenance and inspection). In some cases, the municipality or county include the library building in contracts as part of its overall facility and risk management program; in other cases, the library director and board are responsible for contracting for required or appropriate services. Some preventive maintenance, such as HVAC boiler, air handler, and condenser periodic maintenance (filter changes, pH testing, cleaning and lubrication of external components) may be done by municipal or library employees. In other communities, those services are conducted under a more comprehensive maintenance contract.

If repairs and preventive maintenance are done through the municipality or county, review any costs that may be assessed against the library's budget. If the costs appear unreasonable, discuss with the appropriate department head or the municipal administrator whether the apportionment among departments or buildings is being assessed appropriately. The library board may wish to contract itself with a vendor; however, such changes should be undertaken with careful consideration to ensure that the benefits outweigh any ill-will that might result from the library board exercising its authority over the building. Beware, too, that outside companies must profit from the services they provide. Often they will try to convince the library director to contact for a full parts-and-service maintenance contract, on the basis that the monthly or quarterly cost smooths out spikes in expenses for costly parts or equipment replacement. But the library will generally be better served by a preventive maintenance and service program that leaves parts and equipment to be charged on an as-required basis. In those cases, the library board should ascertain whether the municipality will include the library in its contingency or rainy-day fund, and appropriate additional funds in the event of a major equipment breakdown, or whether the library board must request and maintain funding on its own.

grass-level view of a lawn mower
Courtesy of Pixabay
It is tempting to have the director or library staff undertake some of the maintenance or periodic services as mowing, cleaning, light repairs, or carpet cleaning. But such penny-pinching arrangements may be costly in the end. Be sure to avoid potentially expensive liability or disability expenses by checking with the municipality's risk management or insurance carrier before permitting employees to undertake such tasks, and make sure that the personal insurance of volunteers covers accidents that may occur. The municipal attorney or risk management carrier may require a waiver in specific circumstances.

A list of specific building and facility issues to consider is beyond the scope of this brief article. It would include physical plant installations (HVAC, elevator, alarms,), exterior maintenance (mowing, landscaping, plowing, walkways, painting, tuckpointing, parking lot striping and crack sealing), and life-cycle of components, especially technology (computer and network components, alarm systems, HVAC controls). The Northeast Kansas Library System  has a maintenance checklist for public libraries that may be useful as a framework for your local situation. Maintenance and facility issues can be initially overwhelming, but by building the right building relationships, the risk of unexpected, expensive, critical or even dangerous failures can be easily prevented. Then you can have time to address the public library services you enjoy!

Written by John DeBacher
Public Library Development Team