Confidence amidst challenges

Despite the great responsibility that Meike Kerkhofs-Welkenhuizen (37) carries as project manager, she appears calm and completely in control six weeks before the library is due to reopen on 10 June this year.

“Actually, I am very excited,” she answers when asked how she (and her nerves) feel with 10 June rapidly approaching. “I am really looking forward to the reopening. Of course, I also have some slight concerns here and there, but overall, I have a lot of confidence that it will all work out well.”

Transformation unfolds

Where we converse in the back office of the Randwyck Library, everything is quiet and orderly. However, a single step through an adjoining door reveals the bustling construction site, where workers have been labouring diligently for nearly a year. This is where a complete transformation is underway, and as the reopening approaches, one can finally get a glimpse of what the renovated library will look like.

“Every day, you witness changes unfolding,” says Meike. “Things that were once only ideas on paper are becoming tangible and one can see all the pieces starting to fall into place. A lot of things were uncertain beforehand, but now, at last, one can finally witness the transformation first-hand, and the result is really beautiful.”

Randwyck Renovation

Above: Building work underway at the Randwyck Library.

Vision for the future

Modernisation was a major focus in the redesign of the Randwyck Library, which was constructed over 30 years ago. The university and library management realised it was time to give the library a facelift. Since essential repairs had to be made anyway, it was the ideal opportunity to redesign the library as a whole. The vision is that the new library, with its open spaces and nearly 150m of real plants, will exude calmness and be a place where people enjoy thinking, working, and socialising together. A library designed to embrace the future.

“I especially hope that people will feel comfortable, safe, and stimulated in the library. I hope the space will exude tranquillity and that it will have a warm and welcoming atmosphere. And, of course, we want it to have a modern touch, so it doesn’t feel like you’re stepping back 30 years in time,” says Meike.

Randwyck Renovation

Above: Nearly 150m of real plants will be featured in the renovated library.

Randwyck Renovation

Meeting modern demands

Because technology is evolving systematically, one doesn’t always realise the extent of the impact and change. However, when a library is modernised, the changes become clear quickly. Consider, for example, the old desktop computers that were an absolute necessity in a library twenty years ago. But times have changed, and these desktops are completely obsolete nowadays, as almost every student owns their own laptop. Therefore, the old desktop computers in the library are now being replaced by modern workstations with screens where students can plug in their laptops. Students also have an increasing need for video call spaces for virtual individual and group discussions, which have become more common since the Covid pandemic. Change or die, as the saying goes, and the Randwyck Library has unmistakeably opted to adjust to the times and progress towards the future.

Sustainability in renovation

Also in line with the future, the renovations have been carried out as environmentally friendly as possible. Meike emphasises that sustainability has always been a focus of the project. The furniture that remains in good condition is being reused, and the newly purchased furniture is made from recycled materials.

So, what does it feel like to be the “mother” of such a substantial project?

“A big difference between this project and raising your own children is that with your own children, you are the primary decision-maker. You determine whether they can watch television or play outside. You make all the important decisions. You have the final say, alongside your partner, of course,” explains Meike. “However, with this project, there are a whole bunch of mothers and fathers involved, and together everyone is actually a guardian of the library. In particular, the alignment with all the stakeholders makes it different. I am ultimately responsible, but all other choices are made in consultation.”

Essential traits for successful project management

Naturally, not just anyone can successfully lead a project with such a multitude of stakeholders. It’s a constant juggling act. However, Meike makes it look easy as she gives me a tour through the construction site, exchanging friendly greetings with builders, and engaging in casual conversation with people on the site along the way.

What personality traits do you need to successfully manage such a complex project?

“I think a kind of humility towards the stakeholders is important. On the one hand, there is the vision of the library that you have to defend, but you also have to be open to other parties who see things differently. And then it also requires a bit of diplomatic play, of course,” she says. “Initially, I think I underestimated how many people are involved in this and how every decision affects people. You might think it’s just a renovation: different colours, new furniture, what’s the big deal, but almost everyone who works at the library is somehow affected by the consequences of the decisions that are made. It’s been a learning curve for me to constantly consider these broader implications.”

Randwyck renovation

Above: Building work underway at the Randwyck Library.

Balancing responsibilities

So, a mother of a huge project, but fortunately not a single mom as there are plenty of guardians who take care of the little one together. And sleepless nights then?

“Not really,” says Meike convincingly. “I am, in this regard, a confident mother, and I have considerable faith in the project. I have a competent team alongside me and we have thoroughly considered all aspects together, and now we await to see how things come together at the end. Besides, it is not really productive to lie awake at night fretting over a problem. It’s far more beneficial to devise a plan to resolve it. And, with flexible thinking, it is almost always possible to come up with alternative ideas and plans.”

And when Meike is not busy raising this new baby of hers, she surprisingly still manages to find the time and energy to go for a run, play with her (actual) children, sing, or make music on the piano and flute.