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Libraries Find Creative Ways to Color Outside the Lines
Posted On September 22, 2015
During the week of Sept. 13 to 19, 2015, more than 270 libraries across the U.S. and Canada (and even one from Australia) participated in an aggressive PR campaign to break down negative perceptions and celebrate “the innovation and creativity happening in libraries” today. This is the second year that all types of libraries reached out “to their communities in new and engaging ways,” with the shared event Outside the Lines. Its motto is “Libraries Reintroduced,” and it is “a weeklong celebration to reconnect you with the creativity, technology, discovery and all of the fun and unexpected experiences happening in libraries today—think: 3D printers, ebooks, woodworking classes, personal job search help, laptop checkouts, biz incubators, seed libraries, recording studios … the list goes on.”

Following the Leader

Outside the Lines is spearheaded in part by the Rangeview Library District’s progressively branded Anythink Libraries, the Adams County (Colo.) library system. In 2009, the district changed the names of its community libraries to Anythink libraries and its bookmobile service to Anythink in Motion as part of its rebranding efforts. Anythink’s innovation and reimagining have included changing job titles to “Wrangler,” “Concierge,” or “Guide.” Branch managers have been rebranded as “Experience Experts.” All staff and customers are called “Anythinkers.”

These efforts to bring change from the outside in and inside out have led, perhaps naturally, to attempts to challenge people’s perceptions of what libraries can provide for their communities. Anythink was rewarded with the IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, which is given to institutions for “outstanding social, educational, environmental, or economic contributions to their communities.” The library system also won a 2011 John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award for its branding relaunch.

Thinking Outside the Box

Outside the Lines is an initiative of R-Squared, a coalition of Colorado library directors and marketers. According to the event’s website, “This celebration takes many of the concepts discussed at R-Squared—The Risk & Reward Conference, such as creativity, customer curiosity, culture, community and creative spaces, and puts them into action where they count—in our local communities.”

Last year was the first Outside the Lines, a “weeklong celebration demonstrating the creativity and innovation happening in libraries.” More than 175 libraries of all types from across North America participated, and “[t]hrough creative outreach and community engagement, organizations are reintroducing libraries to their local communities to get them thinking—and talking—about libraries in a whole new way.” This year, more than 270 libraries participated, including 25 Canadian libraries from six provinces; 42 libraries from U.S. states and territories, such as Puerto Rico and the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base; and Australia’s Melbourne Library Service. Two webinars were held earlier this year to give potential participants a chance to “brainstorm and strategize” about how they might participate.

Some examples of how libraries participated include the following:

  • Oakland (Calif.) Public Library’s theme was to “take to the streets—with bicycles, parades and pop-up parklets.” The main library participated in Park(ing) Day, “an initiative to temporarily transform parking spots into public parks. Individuals walking past the library’s two transformed parking spots are invited to relax, read or discuss favorite books with staff.”
  • For its second year of participation, the University of Texas Libraries planned a series of events such the Austin campus’ “Be a Media Maker in 10 Minutes,” “Scholars Commons Pilot Kick-off,” and open house for Chinese-speaking students.
  • Wyoming’s Fremont County Library System combined Outside the Lines with National Library Card Signup Month and sponsored Joe Cool’s Backyard BBQ.

Given the success of this year’s expanding lineup, we can expect to see even more events and ideas added to next year’s celebration.

Nancy K. Herther is a research consultant and writer who recently retired from a 30-year career in academic libraries.

Email Nancy K. Herther

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