Working in the Materials Library is a rite of passage in this industry. Almost every designer I know started as a Library Intern and worked their way up. It's an un-glamorous job, but a well organized library can make or break a project timeline, therefore routine maintenance is a essential. Library preferences tend to be subjective as there are many ways to approach the task, most of which work very well. That being said, there are a few rules that, in my opinion, ring true no matter what.
1. Be Ruthless To quote Nate Berkus, "Be a ruthless editor of what you allow into your home" or rather...office. This means, don't bring something into your library just because it is new and being offered to you. With companies churning out more and more each year, there are more opportunities to see and adopt new product than ever before. But let's face it, they aren't all winners. If we're being honest, most of what reps bring in is just okay. Never allow something into the library that you wouldn't be proud to use in a project. The same goes for keeping binders around that should have been tossed out years ago. I think we all can agree that you're not going to pull a carpet tile binder from 2008 when Interface's new Neocon launch is sitting on the table. If it's dated, discontinued, or just plain ugly, get rid of it.
2. Be Realistic If you are a healthcare firm, you have no business stocking mohair in your library. Our firm designs shopping centers, therefore most of what we keep in the library is extremely durable and can withstand the traffic that goes along with being in a public place. Sure, there are always exceptions, but it's silly to stock items for the exception and not the rule. In the event that a once in a lifetime project comes down the pipeline, order samples on a case by case basis. The library should be used for frequently used items, not one offs.
3. Deep Clean Twice a Year At the minimum. Once before Neocon (to make room for all the new stuff), and once before the holidays (when all the suppliers are on break and business is slow). Get rid of anything more than five years old, unless it is a beloved staple. Reorganize if necessary. Send back to the manufacturer or donate what you can, and recycle or pitch the rest.
4. Write the Date on Everything The life cycle of a Library Intern is short. If an intern starts their senior year of college, they will likely be ready to move on in a year's time. It's just not a job that you can expect someone to do for very long when bigger and better things are out there. Yet firms rarely prepare for this turnover. Frequently, the design team becomes dependent on one person who knows where everything is and knows when it came into the library. That information disappears when they do, leaving the team lost until the new intern has been around long enough to fill the vacant shoes. One of the many ways to avoid this problem is to label when everything comes into the library. That way, a new person knows if it needs to be updated or not, or if it is so outdated it can be tossed out or donated.
5. Write the Rep's Name on Everything This is so simple. but taping a copy of a business card to each binder saves so much time. Most reps do this on their own, but not all. Making sure the contact information is written on the product means that senior designers can order samples for themselves when the intern is on Spring Break and that interns know who to call when they need to get rid of things. Anything you can do to prevent a singular "silo of knowledge" from forming is a good idea.
6. Label Everything I don't care how gorgeous a natural stone sample might be, if there is no sticker on the back telling me what it is, who distributes it, and what it's made out of, it is of no use to me. Make sure all loose samples are marked and get rid of everything that isn't.
7. Designate Project Boxes Good library organization fails when designers try to archive project samples in the same place where unused samples are stored. In my opinion, the best way to deal with this is to house finishes in a designated box when each project is completed. Make sure there is a list of the box contents and do your best to never steal from it.
8. Designate a "Send Back" Area Most libraries have a "go back" bin to collect rejected samples that need to be refiled. However, few libraries have a space to put samples that need to get out of the office entirely. In our library, we have an empty set of shelves where we collect samples that need to go. When the pile gets big enough, our receptionist calls the rep and asks them to pick it up. This area is separate from the regular "go back" bin, but we usually try to put things away immediately instead of letting it pile up.
9. Pick a Organizational System and Stick To It It doesn't matter if you hang your fabric samples or fold them in a drawer. Whatever system you choose, just stick with it. Don't try to mix and match, it's just too confusing. Whether you group fabric by color, manufacturer, or durability, just keep it consistent.
10. Replace What You Take This seems obvious, but so few people do it. If you take the last Corian Glacier White sample, as a courtesy to your coworkers, order more! You know someone else will need it and you don't want to leave them empty handed in their hour of need. It only takes a few seconds, and everyone's life will run a lot smoother if the entire team is diligent about it.
Libraries are a necessary part of an Interior Design department or firm, but keeping them organized is a real task. Especially when dealing with that one designer who has borderline hoarder tendencies. Every office has one. If you are dealing with someone like this, bless you, and know that we have all been there. And if you are this person, please help your intern out and let go of some things. It will make everyone's life easier. :)