Impact! It is not just strong, effective publicity or the fine new building or even a staff built around its ability to connect with the people, although all of those things add to the impact of Wyoming’s Laramie County Library System (LCLS) on the city (Cheyenne) and county it serves. It isn’t just the latest technology bringing cutting-edge access to information and entertainment to library users or a host of partnerships to respond to county needs. The library is much more than all that to the 85,384 independent people who live in Laramie County.
LCLS has tremendous impact on the lives of the people in Wyoming’s capital city and largest county—and over 80 percent of them have library cards. That doesn’t just happen. The impact of LCLS is the anticipated result of a carefully planned and brilliantly executed vision and mission that grew out of the library’s relationship with the people it serves. County librarian Lucie Osborn and her team constructed a staff and service model to make life richer and better in Cheyenne and the county and that spilled over into models for the state and the nation. Hail, LCLS, the Gale/LJ 2008 Library of the Year.
More than “making do”
One patron’s support for the library’s nomination tells the story. “Our old library was what you might expect of a mid-size Western town; cramped, a little dingy…serviceable. Not knowing much else, I think we thought it was about right,” writes Sara Burlingame about the way she and her family used the old and now uses the new LCLS.
“Many of us only became aware that we needed better when we discovered that there wasn’t physically enough room to stock all of the books we had. I’m not alone in feeling like our new library raises our self-esteem as a city,” Burlingame continues.
“As a people we are pretty independent, even isolationist, minded. It probably comes, in part, from being the least populated state in the union. We don’t like to tax ourselves, we don’t take to change readily, and we are old hands at ‘making do,’” she adds. “But since its completion in 2007, the Laramie County Library stands as a place so extraordinary in its function and design, that it has become the spontaneous center of our community.”
The six penny library
Such independent citizens bring tight government and unique tax laws. In Wyoming, a county can add a one penny per dollar sales tax to the state’s five percent, if it spells out the purpose for the money and the total amount needed to complete the project. In 2003, the library won 55 percent of the votes to impose that sixth penny tax to raise $26.9 million for a new bookmobile, renovations to one branch, and a brand new county main library. By some standards, the vote would be called a landslide, but it was a low turnout, and a 10,712 to 8,853 split left the librarians a little disappointed but happy to win. So it is a source of gratification to Osborn and her staff that people are still telling her, sotto voce, “You know, I voted against Proposition 6, because I thought the old library was fine. I was wrong!”
The LCLS vision embodied
“Exemplary customer service” is the primary goal at LCLS, and it pursues that goal through innovative programs, partnerships, and the provision of opportunities for recreation, education, and information for users of every type. The LCLS staff are alert to the imperative to meet both individual needs and those of the community as a whole.
The architects for the new building, AndersonMasonDale (AMD) of Denver and local firm Tobin Associates, understood the LCLS mission. AMD captured it in the conceptual statement about the new LCLS building on its web site: “Public meetings clarified the unique character of…Cheyenne. As a capital city, it has a strong urban and civic character, yet its people embrace the wide open spaces of the surrounding landscape. Sited on the seam between the downtown and residential areas, the library takes cues from its civic neighbors while nodding to less urban precincts to the north and west.”
The LCLS central library was designed so that it would achieve Silver certification as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) facility. The architects performed extensive energy modeling on a variety of operations to allow for energy-efficient and cost-effective systems and solutions. Osborn sees this as yet another opportunity for LCLS to teach and provide examples for both the county and the library community.
“We want to do more public education based on our LEED certification experience. There are new LEED programs for residential buildings, houses, and others for planners. We like to work with both citizens and local developers on the energy and environmental fronts,” Osborn says.
Among the aspects of the LEED effort is landscaping using self-sustaining native bushes and flowers such as sumac, Russian Sage, and juniper and pine trees, which require less water.
That main building, the system’s two rural branches, and a new bookmobile help LCLS deliver on the rich diversity of partnerships it has initiated. With Laramie County Community College and the University of Wyoming (UW), LCLS created Literary Connection 2003, a two-day event featuring five acclaimed authors. UW professors are regularly featured at library events and in lecture series. Recently, Lew Bagby, who directs the UW School for International Studies, spoke on “Putin’s Russia: A China in the Making.” In another example, some 1850 teens and adults heard Sherpa Jamling Tenzing Norgay compare his own ascent of Mount Everest with his father’s historic climb. The event was sponsored by an LCLS partnership with RBC Dain Rauscher, American National Bank, and others.
The Wyoming State Museum, Old West Museum, Laramie County Head Start, Stride Learning Center, Cheyenne Animal Shelter, YMCA, Cheyenne Boys and Girls Club, Cheyenne Lions Club, Cheyenne Rotary Club, Cheyenne Eye Clinic, Starbucks, Cheyenne Women’s Civic League, and Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation are only some of the array of agencies and organizations with which LCLS has formed alliances. One of the strongest LCLS associations, and a newer one, is with Laramie County School District Number One to maximize learning opportunities in the area.
Focus on kids
Everyone from babies to seniors will find programs and opportunities at LCLS, but there is a conscious focus on service to children. “We have always put our emphasis on them because that is our future,” says Osborn. “We believe in getting children ready to read.”
Amelia Shelley, former manager of youth and outreach services (YOS) at LCLS, worked very hard with Mike Klopfenstein at County School District Number One to build the collaboration that has truly created new educational opportunities. Together they developed teacher tool kits in several subjects, built traveling exhibits, initiated the summer reading program that involved 5,333 kids, and offered training for both teachers and paraprofessionals. Every K–12 student now has a library card. All have access to the “Ask WY” homework assistance program. The library runs a stack of literacy efforts, from providing curriculum materials and age-appropriate literacy resources to book talks and early literacy training. Of course, LCLS has a fine panoply of preschool story times, but the library also conducted training programs for the district’s elementary school library paraprofessionals.
LCLS has strong connections to the many area homeschooling families. More than 200 get regular LCLS mailings about programs and materials that target their needs. Home Pages, the LCLS book club for homeschooled children and teens, has won recognition for its innovation in serving hard-to-reach young people.
The LCLS Youth Advisory Board, nearly 40 adolescents, meets monthly to discuss and plan teen services and collections. It includes junior and senior high school students and homeschool students. Librarians and noted YA authors participate in regular book discussions at schools and in the library.
The new LCLS bookmobile reaches at-risk children in low-income housing areas and supplements school libraries in rural sectors. Staffers provide story times, craft sessions, and other programs at each bookmobile stop. The bookmobile visits all the remedial summer school sites to allow those students to participate in the summer reading program.
As early as 2003, LCLS was among the first library system to offer gaming for teens, and it has a partnership with a local representative to show a variety of anime films. In 2005, it won both the Sagebrush/YALSA Award for a young adult reading program and the School Library Journal/Thomson Gale Giant Step Award for achievements in outreach. In addition, the library is very proud of its ongoing partnership with the statewide Wyoming Latina Youth Conference.
Programs for the people
From “Books for Babies,” which gives a “quality board book” to every newborn at the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, or the LCLS annual kindergarten library card campaign to ensure that all kids age five and up have library cards, to the more than 100 computer classes for older adults, LCLS offers both resources and programs for all ages.
Older adults were more comfortable with groups of about 12 in a computer class, and from that LCLS discovered that a dozen working together on computers is optimum. A lot of LCLS technology training is with older adults.
“Many folks just want to be able to IM or email their children and grandchildren,” says Osborn. “They could take a class at the community college, and some do, but our stuff is free, and you don’t have to be there every Wednesday night for an hour or whatever. We teach small groups, in one-shot sessions, so they quickly get basic technology skills.”
A print-based service, the LCLS book club kits feature ten books, a notebook with information about the books and authors, and discussion questions and tips. The kits have become popular with libraries all over, via interlibrary loan.
In addition to the traditional services to homebound seniors and deposit collections in many assisted-living centers, the new bookmobile has a wheelchair lift, allowing it to visit nursing homes and accommodate people with physical challenges.
The statewide consortium and database, WYLD, enables LCLS to provide readers with access to the collections of all public, community college, and some special library holdings as well as many commercial databases. It’s funded 60 percent by the state, which means that for $17,621, LCLS provides broad access to all the library holdings and databases to anyone who comes into the library, or remotely to any resident with a library card and a PIN. The holdings of UW libraries are accessible, too.
A great team
“I am most proud of the people who work together here and all the things we accomplish with that team,” says Osborn. The LCLS payroll numbers about 75, of whom only eight are “degreed librarians.” She is thrilled over the two of them who began their careers as shelvers at LCLS when they were in high school. Both are now assistant managers. A Public Library Association (PLA) “Grow Your Own” grant helped one get through library school.
LCLS has a strong continuing education (CE) program and subsidizes “job-related” staff education, which it interprets “loosely.” Currently, one LCLS staffer is studying for an MLS, and two more have applied to library school. Osborn revels in the achievements of 18 or so librarians nationwide who started their careers at LCLS.
When hiring, Osborn invokes a rigorous, time-consuming process. If no excellent candidates apply for a job, LCLS will advertise the vacancy repeatedly until it finds “a person whom we think will do an exceptional job in the position we’re trying to fill.” Some jobs have been advertised as many as three or four times, a market reality in communities with smaller populations.
“We want a very strong customer service person,” says Osborn. “We look for people who are positive, enthusiastic, high energy. We want people with a twinkle in their eye. People with that spark!“
Every time a position opens, LCLS managers review the job description, discuss strengths and weaknesses of the team the new leader will join, and consider “what holes need to be filled.”
Right now, LCLS is in the offsite interviewing process for Shelley’s position as manager of youth and outreach services. Shelley, who was at LCLS for a decade, recently moved on to direct the library in Garfield County, CO. Before she left, she said her gift to LCLS would be to initiate the application for this award, and, with Troy Rumpf (manager of LCLS community and media services), she delivered the first draft to Osborn.
A team of YOS reps, other managers, and Osborn reviewed the job description and brainstormed. After hour-long telephone interviews with some of the applicants, they scheduled full-day interviews with the candidates they liked. During that day, each candidate will do a presentation to any employees who want to attend and ask questions, conduct a book talk with the LCLS Youth Advisory Board, and deliver parts of a written grant proposal. Three topics were assigned for the presentations—intellectual freedom, homeschooling, and technology for youth.
In addition to a formal orientation and training for new employees, LCLS sends staffers to PLA conferences and other CE opportunities. “The library has a responsibility to grow employees so they are ready for the next step in their careers,” says Osborn.
A glimpse of the future
LCLS is still working to find the future of the public library in Laramie County, the state of Wyoming, the United States, and the world. Osborn, county librarian since 1990 and assistant county librarian from 1979 to 1987, knows that future is a moving target. Her work at LCLS has made her optimistic. “Public libraries have an even stronger role to play in our society than they have in the past. They must be the community center, the destination. Our public told us they wanted a library that would be those things,” Osborn says.
“They wanted a library that they would think of as a place to go just as they do a museum, the theater, or even just a place to hang out as many do,” she says, adding, “We believe we have accomplished that here. Humans are social creatures, and we need to interact with each other. That is part of what libraries provide, a place to be together.”
As our Library of the Year judges decided, LCLS is not only a very fine place for people to be together but much, much more.
Web Exclusive Video
Watch a video of the Library of the Year reception at the American Library Association Annual Conference.
Library of the Year 2008 Special Mention
Many of this year’s submissions attest to the creativity and excellence in U.S. and Canadian libraries. Several of the institutions feature the service philosophy and dedication to community that signify a Library of the Year:
- Borden Public Library District, Elgin, IL
Carole Medal, Director, Gail
- Richmond Public Library, BC, Canada
Greg Buss, Chief Librarian
- University of Minnesota (Twin Cities) Libraries, Minneapolis
Wendy Pradt Lougee, University Librarian
Library of the Year 2008 Judges
LJ thanks the following library professionals who volunteered their valuable time to help select the 2008 Library of the Year:
- Norma Blake, State Librarian, New Jersey State Library, Trenton; LJ 2008 Librarian of the Year
- Leslie Burger, Immediate Past-President, American Library Association
- Tina Creguer, Vice President, Marketing Communications, Gale | Cengage Learning
- Meribah Mansfield, Director, Worthington Libraries, OH; LJ 2007 Library of the Year
- Susan K. Nutter, Vice Provost & Director of Libraries, North Carolina State University, Raleigh; LJ 2005 Librarian of the Year
The panel also includes LJ‘s John N. Berry III, Lynn Blumenstein, Francine Fialkoff, Josh Hadro, Rebecca Miller, & Norman Oder