Archive for June, 2011

Anythink is the brand name for seven cutting edge, revolutionary libraries in Adams County, Colorado. To be more specific, as their signage clearly says, the seven Anythink locations and the bookmobile (aka “Anythink in motion”) are the neighbourhood service points for the Rangeview Library District.

Libraries don’t often embrace branding in the way Anythink has done. In fact some reject the concept entirely. But as an outcome of branding and what Anythink managers themselves call a disruptive approach to the provision of library services, the results have been phenomenally positive. In 2003 the Denver Post labelled the Adams County Public Library, as Anythink was then known, the “worst in [the] state”. Fast forward to 2010 when compared to 2009, checkouts increased by 50%, the number of library card holders went up by 30% and visits to the website rose by 84%. Public approval is rising and there’s a buzz in the library community about Anythink.

Anythink’s director, Pam Sandlian Smith and staff at four locations hosted me and my colleague Mary Somerville in a daylong tour. Also, they very generously arranged for Anythink in motion to take time from its busy schedule for a rendezvous and photos.

Pam, the staff and her Board have successfully rallied behind the brand and some positive disruptions to the usual conventions in public libraries. Gone is the Dewey system which has been replaced by “WordThink”, a method adapted from bookstores for arranging books and DVDs, etc. on shelves. Fines are not charged for overdue items, food and beverages are allowed, librarians are known as Guides and branch managers double as Experience Experts. These are more than just cosmetic changes, and reflect a hip, innovative and creative organizational culture.

In addition to these positive disruptions, new and renovated buildings are open, inviting and beautifully designed. Clearly, Anythink libraries have layout and design features that provide flexibility, a welcoming, comfortable environment and intuitive access to books, magazines, computers and to staff. Those staff members readily detach themselves from desks to roam the floor, to chat with and engage customers without being intrusive.

In my next post about Anythink I will highlight other of its initiatives that help build community in the area, and go beyond just thinking to creativity and learning.

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“Cloud Seeding”

by Erik Carlson, a participatory electronic art installation at the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library

Before visiting the anythink libraries in nearby Adams County, I took in the Green Valley Ranch branch of the Denver Public Library (DPL).  Cori Jackamore, the co-manager of Children’s and Family Services gave me and my colleague, Mary Somerville, an enthusiastic and informative tour of this new and innovative library.

DPL has implemented a model that offers service options that vary by branch or neighborhood.  Some branches specialize by offering programs, books and materials focused on certain age groups or interests.  So customers need to learn which locations are best for their age and interests.  This is a flexible model that can be tweaked to meet changing needs.  For example the Green Valley Ranch library caters primarily to children who visit with their parents, and to teens that attend a nearby middle school.

Opened in March 2011, the branch is designed for maximum flexibility.  Many bookshelves are actually on wheels, as are the sleek looking tables, which can be moved apart and back together in different configurations.

The innovative features that popped up for me were these:

  1. A community room that could blend easily with the rest of the library, as opposed to being off in one corner or edge of the building.  A stylish and moveable “garage door” wall allowed for easy overflow when the library was busy and also for self-contained meetings and programs when needed;
  2.  Computer furniture designed for single or collaborative use of workstations, placed in a thoughtful arrangement near the center of the library;
  3. Public art that is “participatory” in that it interprets concepts from the searches that customers type in a nearby computer (without being so direct as to reveal what they’ve typed), and images are then displayed in on multiple screens as part of the art installation.
  4. Customer service points that enable good sight lines, and staff who rove to check in with customers as needed.
  5.  Lots of cool “hands on” kinetic boards attached to end panels of shelves.  These are great for occupying young kids while mom or dad picks out a favourite book, DVD or magazine.

The branch was designed around the themes of “plains” and “planes” because the Denver airport is close.  This is big sky country after all.  So the colours reflect the native plants of the plains, the public art piece is called “Cloud Seeding” and there is a real cockpit of a 737, once used by Boeing for training purposes.  During my tour it was full of boys testing out their emerging pilot skills.  More kinesthetic activity to support learning!

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I’m in Denver, Colorado for five days where I will be seeing the Denver Public Library and will be spending all day Monday visiting the newly branded and revolutionary “anythink libraries” in nearby Adams County.  Stay tuned for more info and photos in upcoming posts.

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