Renovating and Rebuilding to Advance Our Future

NLM building schematic with geometry compass

Guest post by Dianne Babski, Associate Director for Library Operations, and Patrick Casey, NLM Building Engineer. This serves as a follow up to a previous blog post, (Re)Engineering the National Library of Medicine Building, from July 2021.

In fall 2017, NLM engaged with NIH facilities management, architects, and historic preservation specialists to explore ways to better utilize our space, support research, and provide a progressive and collaborative work environment. Nearly six years later, the end is in sight, and it feels appropriate to check in with Patrick for an update. I asked him for some renovation updates and his thoughts on the progress of the other facility projects.

Tell us about the latest progress in the library renovation project.

The exterior side view of the National Library of Medicine and Lister Hill Center.

The construction project for Building 38’s first and second floors has entered phases 2 and 3. These phases are being completed concurrently. Demolition has already begun with construction activities commencing in early 2023. Work has encountered some challenges and the completion timeline for the library renovation is now expected to be the end of this year.

While most construction activities underway at NLM should be completed by the end of 2023, the Data Center utilities project will be ready and operational in just a few months. This project provides secondary cooling and power options to ensure the stability of our 24/7 operations and access to our information resources. While primary cooling and power will continue to come from the basic campus utilities, these new secondary cooling and power sources will come from new generators and glycol-chilled dry coolers. The equipment will be tested, balanced, and activated in the next few months.

What other challenges have you faced during the renovation project?

The Kenneth Snelson “Tree I” sculpture is located on the patio in front of Building 38A.

Failing storm water drainage from the 38A plaza has resulted in numerous leaks in the building in recent years, especially in the data center and administrative offices situated below the plaza. While complicated in and of itself, this project provided a unique challenge of dealing with artwork!

The Kenneth Snelson “Tree I” sculpture that sits atop the plaza has been a prominent and positive piece of NLM’s fabric since its dedication in 1981. Many staff and visitors alike use this beautiful and inspiring work as a photo backdrop. Composed of steel tubes and cables, “Tree I” is 20 feet high with a 32-foot expansion and, like other examples of Snelson’s work, appears to float unsupported.

To ensure the integrity of the sculpture remains intact, we are now incorporating the fine arts division of the U.S. General Services Administration into our design team. We are working together to identify a qualified team that can disassemble, remove, store, and then reassemble the sculpture after the plaza is repaired. Coordination and care will be key to ensure this masterpiece is available for generations of photos!

What does the project completion mean for both staff and library visitors?

Our intention for the renovation project is to increase staff workspace capacity and improve the functionality of the space. The initial design of the first floor accommodated our extensive reading rooms. Today, the footprint does not need to be nearly that large. We are converting underutilized space into state-of-the-art training spaces, a merged central reading room, workstations, offices, conference rooms, and a variety of team huddle spaces.

Overall, the renovation will significantly improve the experience for staff and visitors. The new design allows for much more natural light that will showcase our new modern and flexible furniture designs. The refreshed boardroom will be more inviting, increase the capacity for attendees, and be equipped with the latest technology. We’ve also included staff-requested “kitchenette” facilities, gender-neutral restrooms, and a lactation room as part of the NIH Nursing Mothers Program.

What new designs are being incorporated to improve employees’ work experience?

The modern design offers several benefits to improve the workplace experience. Technology integration is important for team collaboration, especially now that we are operating in a “hybrid” setting with staff on telework, flexible schedules, and remote working agreements. For people to feel included in a meeting regardless of their location, modern AI-features built into cameras will track voice and physical movement to pan and zoom naturally and even provide a gallery view on screen so that the overall hybrid meeting experience is smooth and seamless.

To accommodate a variety of uses, different shared spaces will include glass whiteboards and integrated technology for hybrid conferencing. Workspaces will offer standard equipment setup with docking station and monitors so that staff can comfortably and quickly get started with their day. We have planned for sit/stand desks and adjustable chairs for ergonomic comfort, and we added design flexibility to accommodate staff and visitors with accessibility needs. There will also be an integrated reservation system for booking conference, training, and huddle room workspaces. The system will be user-friendly and flexible and will make reserving or canceling meetings much easier.

As stated in our December 2022 Musings post titled Anticipating a Future We Never Anticipated, “[w]e planned new workspace arrangements to make the best use of our existing buildings to anticipate their suitability for hoteling, hybrid work engagements, and on-site meetings to bring teams together.” While physical construction requires constant adaptation, so do our ways of working with more workplace flexibilities in place post COVID-19.

A new era of experimenting, piloting, and learning has begun. Physical workplaces are now a compelling destination for team ideation, timely mentorship and coaching, performance reviews, new project initiation, or any reason that involves physical interaction with the NLM collections. Whether you are a staff member or visitor, we hope the renovations at the library will be a compelling destination that is worthy of your commute!

Dianne Babski

Associate Director, Library Operations, NLM

Ms. Babski is responsible for overall management of one of NLM’s largest divisions with more than 450 staff who provide health information services to a global audience of health care professionals, researchers, administrators, students, historians, patients, and the public.

Patrick Casey

NLM Building Engineer

Mr. Casey is the NLM Building Engineer. He has worked for the federal government for over 20 years. Prior to working at NLM, he worked in various capacities at the Navy and Marine Corps working in facilities renovation and construction programs.

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