Rethinking libraries - a success story

Pam Sandlian-Smith, the Library Director of Anythink [Public] Libraries in Colorado, promised a tale of hope and inspiration when she closed Axiell's Rethinking Libraries Symposium.When she first joined the library service she encountered ‘every possible mess'.  It was the worst funded in the region and had been in decline for years.  However, with some new funding she and her team set about transforming the service.   She told the audience exactly how they did it.New spacesThe existing spaces were refurbished and new library buildings created.  The libraries - rebranded Anythink - were re-designed to become spaces for creativity and community connections.  The design of the spaces was informed by retail philosophy.  The buildings have lots of natural light and there are other features, including fireplaces, ‘tree-houses', wood shelving, sculptures, verandas, and outside spaces.  The collections are grouped by subject - just like in a bookshop.  They are easy to navigate.  The new branding is used at every touch-point.Community benefitAdams County, Colorado (in which Anythink is situated) is a young community - 75% of the population is under 50.  The team wanted to plan for sustainability by building family programmes and services.  Initially inspired by the ‘floor walker' model of Tower Hamlet's Idea Store, the team sets out to provide services that ‘help people become their best selves'.  There is a focus on inter-generational programming and other creative initiatives - including community gardening.  They seek to go beyond customer service, and instead to provide ‘hospitality' - a mindset that helps eliminates barriers between people.The peopleAnythink wants passionate staff.  Job descriptions and competency frameworks were completely revised, using Apple job descriptions as an inspiration.  Staff job titles include 'guides', 'concierges' and ‘wranglers'.  They need to be part wizard, part genius, part explorer.  They must be able to motivate people to explore and discover.  They are continuous learners and have the capacity to lead others.  And they must be emotionally mature.  Staff are evaluated against these competencies.The results and some key lessonsWhat really worked in Colorado was the focus on building emotional connections with its community.  People ‘love' the library.

  • Circulation figures have quadrupled, as has public access computing usage
  • The library received the National Medal for Museum and Library Services
  • The library is having a dramatic impact on its local community
  • Be disruptive (they dumped Dewey!)
  • Be bold and dramatic!
You can watch an inspirational video about Anythink - and see the results - on YouTube.