How Disruption Can Lead to a Brighter Future

April 10, 2018

Monique Ziesenhenne

School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) PhD Monique Ziesenhenne shares her experiences with library renovation.

Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne has been the Library Director for the Palo Alto City Library in California since May 2011, where she completed a $76 million bond-funded project to renovate or replace three library buildings. We talked to her about the challenge of such huge projects.

Can you tell us a bit about the renovation projects you've spearheaded?

I've been involved in building or renovation projects in every library I've worked—which may sound impossible. As a library school student, I certainly never thought I'd have to pick chairs, carpeting, or manage closing and reopening libraries—but it does happen. Many libraries have older infrastructure that needs to be updated to adequately accommodate technology that we regularly use.

The 3 projects in Palo Alto were part of a $76 million bond project that had one renovation, one renovation with a community room addition, and one complete replacement. As the Director of Library & Cultural Services for the City of Richmond, California, I renovated 2 branch libraries with around $150,000 total, and prepared them to reopen once funding allowed. Prior to that, as Director of the Benicia Public Library in CA, I replaced carpeting throughout the library, keeping the building open in the process.

What was the greatest challenge/biggest opportunity of these projects?

The biggest challenge comes in not asking enough questions of the vendors, contractors, or other partners who will be working on the building, in order to learn all of the steps required to get the project to completion. For example, the contractor may believe that the library will be closed the entire time they're working on the building, when you're planning to be open at least part of the time. Making that happen can cost additional dollars. Another example is understanding exactly what the scope of work includes, so you aren't surprised when you realize a second bid is needed for service for a moving/storage company, or for another consultant to review the plans. If you're ever managing a renovation, involve all of your partners, such as public works, legal opinion, contracting, purchasing, and anyone else, early and often! They know their steps in the process and if you aren't aware of that, you'll run into delays. Be assertive to get the meetings and open to learning as much as you can.

Any advice for students and LIS professionals dealing with overwhelming change?

Focus on the outcome. It's hard during the construction because staff are in different, often temporary, work spaces and the community feels irritated by changes. Focusing on what will be possible once the renovation is over, even if it's just a brighter, cleaner carpet, can make the necessary planning and adjustments less of an obstacle. Take time to understand that the renovation is not permanent, but will make the library's offerings even more valued by patrons.

It's a joy now that all 5 of the branches in Palo Alto are completed. They are beautiful and well-loved by the community, and their functionality allows us to meet community needs in a way we were not able to before. The Mitchell Park Library was named a "New Landmark Library" by Library Journal in 2015.

What was your experience in the SLIS PhD program?

The doctoral program was exactly what I wanted: a professional doctorate that focused on research and allowed me to apply it to my own leadership and professional activities. While I did take longer than expected to complete my degree, I'm glad that I did. New research appeared that was applicable and I took time to allow my writing and thinking to develop. I was also careful to take time for reflection and relaxation—they are important to the process. It was frustrating at times, as my family can attest, but staying focused on completing the degree took more diligence than anything else. Continuing to make some progress nearly every day was a priority. That was key to completing my dissertation: schedule time every day to work on it, talk with others about my research, and do something completely recreational as much as possible so that I was relaxed and rested when I returned to the writing.

The community of learners, including the professors, professors-of-practice, and my own cohort were very encouraging and supportive. I also discovered the value of talking about my research with non-academics—I gained new insight as I answered their questions. All of these people are now my colleagues for life. I ask them for their thoughts and suggestions now as I think about writing an article, making a presentation, or even just noodling over something about work—they're also helpful to me in my role as President-elect for the Public Library Association. I know that I can call on them as committee members or chat about ideas and they will give me their insight.

Photo courtesy of Monique le Conge Ziesenhenne.