A few weeks ago, Executive Arrangements‘ President Margy Judd attended a meeting of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Council at her alma mater, John Carroll University. Dr. Doan Winkle, Chair of the Entrepreneurship Minor, shared how he did a very unscientific but enlightening litmus test of how students were currently using the campus library.
He was looking for information that would help him advocate for a maker/co-working space in a portion of the campus library. So, he grabbed a half dozen books randomly from six different sections of the library to find out their last check out date. The most recent was the late 1980’s! In Margy’s words, “I was floored as I graduated in 1987. Was I maybe the last person to check out those books? How is that possible?” This anecdote made Margy think about how much libraries have changed over the years. And, it made her think about how they must always be innovatively rei-magineing themselves regularly to stay relevant community resources.
Margy invited the Executive Arrangements staff to spend a morning at the Middleburg Heights Branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL). She arranged for Sari Feldman, the Executive Director at CCPL, to share her thoughts on libraries in America today. Sari has served as the Executive Director for 16 years and will retire on August 2nd of this year. She is also a past president of the American Library Association.
About the Cuyahoga County Public Library…
To be expected, Sari was a wealth of information regarding the ins and outs of one of America’s best library systems and the 47 communities that it serves. CCPL’s 27 branches officially serve about 620,000 residents, but non-residents are also welcome to acquire library cards. Since 2010, CCPL has ranked as the number one public library in the US by Library Journal. It has 5.2 millions visits per year and 15.5 million in circulation. It also has a 97% customer satisfaction rating!
CCPL is with the times. They have a free app to stream and download books, movies, TV shows, magazines, audiobooks, comic books, and available video streaming through Kanopy. It is also a member of OhioLINK. The Ohio Library and Information Network is a consortium of Ohio’s college and university libraries and the State Library of Ohio. Between their physical locations, strong online presence, and OhioLINK, CCPL is truly an exceptional, accessible resource.
Sari discussed the amazing ability of public libraries to flourish despite constant talk about their potential demise. Public libraries thrive because they are essential community resources with the power to adapt. CCPL is responsive to the community and information rich. Every branch of CCPL has no entry barriers and welcomes all. Public libraries, like CCPL, are a very important part of the social fabric of our community.
Libraries and Social Infrastructure…
If you are interested in learning more about how libraries contribute to the health of social infrastructure, Sari recommends reading Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People. Pete Buttigieg discusses this book in a New York Times article: “Klinenberg finds in libraries ‘the textbook example of social infrastructure in action,’ a shared space where everyone from school children doing homework to the video-gaming elderly can get to know one another better.”
CCPL is definitely a part of the rich social infrastructure of Northeast Ohio. They listen to their communities and work hard to provide the best possible spaces for the people that they serve. For example, CCPL knows that their Warrensville Heights branch is located in a food desert. Therefore, they responded by developing a small community garden. It’s a great place for children and families to learn more about cooperation and healthy living choices.
Cuyahoga County Public Library Is Thriving…
Sari thinks that CCPL is thriving because it continuously reflects society’s evolution. Today, we are faced with information overload and alternative news. Libraries can help frame the questions and help people find objective facts and truth amongst all of the noise. Public libraries also provide a safe space to discuss difficult topics, including religion, intolerance, and war. There are so many opportunities to expand horizons and views.
And, public libraries are also an essential resource for writers, adults, families, and children.
The early childhood programs provided by CCPL really support parents as they nurture their children’s brain development. The South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch is an outstanding library to visit with young children. Its beautiful designs incorporate the illustrations in Journey by Aaron Becker.
The list of programs available through CCPL for adults is seemingly endless with most events being free and open to the public. The events include author visits, book discussions, computer classes, and lifelong learning opportunities.
Residential and visiting writers love the William N. Skirball Writers’ Center, located in the South Euclid-Lyndhurst Branch. It is a welcoming space for writers of all ages and levels of experience. The Writers’ Center offers free access to private writing rooms, laptops, writing workshops, and a special collection of materials on the art of writing. (EA took a job candidate’s writer spouse here during his orientation day. Needless to say, he was beyond impressed!)
Cuyahoga County Public Libary Is Growing…
All of the programming and facilities available through CCPL are a result of the their ability to continually adapt, reduce expenses, and generate revenue. Some examples of creative revenue generation…passport services, photos services, and an early learning center in the Maple Heights branch. CCPL hasn’t had to present a levy on a tax ballot since 2008!
Sari oversaw a $110 million capital improvement campaign that resulted in ten building renovations and ten replacement building projects that would all better serve the needs of their communities. Amazingly, these projects were funded without increasing taxpayer expenses. They reduced CCPL’s overall annual operating costs. And, they enhanced the quality of available services and programs.
An example of CCPL’s resourceful planning is an upcoming collaboration with Richmond Heights. Their new middle/high school facility will feature a CCPL branch.
Volunteering at Cuyahoga County Public Library…
CCPL employs a volunteer coordinator who works with about 250 volunteers. It is easy to get involved as there are many volunteer opportunities in a variety of programs, including: Adult Literacy, 1-2-3 READ, Friends of the Library, Homework Centers, New Baby, and STEAM.