By Laura Horan
On a drizzly Wednesday afternoon, I took a break from my studies to attend a SLA-PNW library crawl at NBBJ – a major architecture firm in Seattle. A little background on NBBJ: the firm was founded after four architects came together during the 1940s to tackle a big project: camouflaging Boeing Field during World War II! Today NBBJ focuses on several different building types including healthcare, civic/justice, corporate, urban planning, and even stadiums. You’ve probably seen their handiwork around town: buildings designed around Seattle include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation HQ, the Seattle Justice Center, and SafeCo Field. In addition to their headquarters in Seattle, NBBJ has offices in San Francisco, Boston, New York, Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, and Columbus, Ohio. Laura Dushkes, the firm’s librarian, supports all of these offices (although she unfortunately doesn’t get to travel often!)
If Laura’s name sounds familiar, it may be because she is also an instructor at the iSchool. This quarter she’s teaching LIS 527 Business Information Resources (full disclosure: I’m currently taking it, and it is excellent!)
One theme that came up during the crawl was how the library relates to the mission of the firm. NBBJ exists to design buildings. Note that the word library doesn’t occur in that sentence. However a library is essential to supporting the work that goes on at NBBJ, by providing access to up-to-date building codes, design resources, and conducting research critical to their projects.
Being that NBBJ is an architecture firm, the design of their office is important their brand. The office is designed with a very open floor plan, and the library is no different.
The flexibility of the space allows staff to change desks to work closer with project teammates. It is not uncommon to see staff carting their belongings to a new location as projects ebb and flow at the firm. Laura remarked that the library and the model shop were among the few things that have not moved!
While the library is very aesthetically pleasing, the layout was different from what I expected. There are no walls or doors. Outside there is a reading area with lounge chairs and a long table displaying design magazines. Tall white stacks create an enclosed area with a table. During the crawl we discussed the pros and cons – some features of the space, including lighting and shelf height are not ideal for library use. Again, reflecting its location within a firm whose mission isn’t centered around a library. However, I think the openness of the library makes a statement; that it is an important company asset that is accessible to anybody in the company at any time. Also the open floor plan doesn’t seem too unusual. Later in the crawl when I spoke with Kathryn Nelson, another architecture firm librarian in Seattle, she mentioned that her library was moving this week to a similar set up!
The library is physically located at the heart of the building: it’s one of the first things you see as you enter the main floor, it’s near the model shop and most importantly, the coffee. Laura’s desk is located near a major walkway – which actually works out really well. People often stop by her desk to ask a quick question or follow up on a research request; being accessible helps her better support the needs of the office.
On the tour we also discussed some of the practical details of the library, including the classification system. The NBBJ library isn’t classified by Dewey or LCSH, but instead by a home-grown classification system that specifically fits the needs of NBBJ employees (this isn’t unusual for special libraries). It organizes the materials into different architectural categories, codes, design, ect. As in any library, weeding happens. Generally, Laura weeds when she needs more space. Sometimes books go missing – someone might be in a rush on a project and forget to fill out a check out card (or just forget a book is in their office). Laura notes that most of the leakage occurs in the visually stunning architecture books – the ones you might find on a coffee table. Collection development also happens at the NBBJ library. Once a year, Laura gets to head down Peter Miller (a bookstore specializing in architecture and design) and go on a shopping spree for books – it’s a particularly fun day of the year. Laura will also purchase books by demand. If a book is critical to a project she’ll order it right away, but she also keeps a list of “it would be nice if…” book suggestions for when she’s making purchasing decisions.
In addition to touring the library, we also went upstairs to visit the materials library. This space is a repository of paint chips, flooring samples, fabric, tile, trim… These resources help architects at the firm make design decisions and also communicate their designs to a client.
We also stopped upstairs to check out a stunning model of downtown Seattle! This impressive model lays out all the buildings in the central part of the city and is updated regularly. I was even able to find my apartment on the map!
After touring the library spaces at NBBJ, we gathered in a conference room to mingle over wine and cheese. This was a great opportunity to meet information professionals from around Seattle, other students (not just from UW – there was an online student from Wayne State too), and recent grads. The crawl-happy hour format was a very accessible introduction to the local SLA chapter, and an informal way to learn more about the work that goes on in special libraries.
If you’re an online student, I’d encourage you to reach out to your local SLA chapter – they may host events similar to this one. All the professionals I met at the crawl were incredibly friendly and very happy to talk to students. It was a great way to get out there and make some connections!
Seattle Area folks – stay on the look out for information about a SLA-PNW sponsored crawl at the Microsoft Library in January!