Buildings are for People

Earlier this week I was at a library presenting a workshop for trustees (not a Greening Your Library session but a very fun Advocacy Boot Camp) in a beautiful community room overlooking Lake Mahopac. As we wrapped up and started to pack up our flip charts, laptop and data projector the next group who had reserved the space – an outside community group – was trickling in and setting up – what a popular place! As we overlapped in this space I overheard a snippet of a conversation that went a little like this:

“Our building is [stupid]. Can you believe the AC (air conditioning) came on today? It was like 3 degrees outside at lunch time! It’s controlled by a computer so we put gel ice packs on the thermostats to trick it and made the heat come on.”

I stopped in my tracks and thought, “She’s right, that is [stupid].” Everyone is losing out. The staff are unhappy and distracted (how long did it take them to come up with the ice pack trick?) which probably shows in their work and customer service habits. The building is confused and it’s systems are not optimized which probably means it costs more to heat and cool the building and increases the likelihood that the equipment will wear out sooner. The potential for damaging the building (what if that ice pack leaks and shorts out the thermostat?) increases when staff start to jerry-rig its systems. All of this adds up to money. Loss of productivity, building repairs, increase oil/gas use, increase electricity use…

Buildings are for people. Your facility operations should take this into account. From whether or not the environmental controls meet the needs of the people in the space to the cleaning products used – we have to find the balance between human comfort, pricing of products, utility costs and the staff time devoted to maintaining the buildings.

In one of my courses for my Sustainable Building Advisor certification a classmate of mine who previously had been a facility manager for a local college shared that in his tenure there the most frequent complaints from the faculty were temperature complaints, too hot in the classroom or too cold. He also said it was more psychological than related to physiology; which he “scientifically tested” by reporting back to complainants that he had made changes to the settings at their request when he really had not. He said 9 times out of 10 they were satisfied when he had actually not made a change at all.

I’ve found that the best facility operations managers are good listeners. They never discount a persons complaint without fully hearing them out, expressing that they will check into the issue and reporting back on actions (or phantom actions) taken to address the issue. Even if it is a phantom temperature change, if the employee is satisfied… great!

In some cases, hopefully not yours, there seems to be a significant disconnect between building occupants (library staff and patrons), building maintenance, and building management. Just as we all get together to identify priorities for services for the community we should also understand the purpose of our library buildings – they are here to serve just as we are.

This dialogue can help optimize your building, your staff and your budget.

Building management is a science unto itself however library directors do have a responsibility to manage all aspects of the library organization. Your building can impact staff productivity and morale and send an unspoken message to patrons. One of my professors in library school once said, “A building in visible disrepair sends an outward message of neglect – will the service inside be much better?”

I guess my point after these ramblings is: Aligning our service priorities with our facility priorities could be a bigger personnel, budgetary and public relations factor than you may think. Food for thought…


Here in the northeast it’s time to start thinking about winterizing buildings. Here are my top 10 winterizing tips:

  1. Check doors and windows for air leaks.
  2. Have the furnace (or boiler) serviced so that it is operating a maximum efficiency.
  3. Check to make sure smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are in working order.
  4. Ceiling fans should be set to push air down (clockwise).
  5. Put the storm windows back in if you’ve removed them
  6. Check the state of the insulation in the basement and attic. Replace any that looks worn out or add insulation where there is none.
  7. Insulate your pipes.
  8. Use metal-backed tape to seal up gaps in ductwork.
  9. Insulate outlets on the exterior wall.
  10. Check out the minimum interior temperature for working space in your state and program your thermostat.