You never know where your best ideas are going to come from. For Charles County Public Library, it was IT Manager Aaron Krebeck. That wouldn’t be surprising for a technological innovation, but the newest technology involved in this particular brainstorm is the oven. His suggestion: establish a cake pan collection. Krebeck heard the idea at a seminar and brought it back to the library.
“We just loved it,” Branch Manager Cindy Thornley told LJ. “We like to be a little bit weird.”
Six staff members have worked on the pan collection. It was relatively cheap to acquire the nearly 50 pans the library holds so far, because they’re mostly donated. “People get to about my age where their kids are grown or in college, and they say, ‘I’m not going to use that pan again, what do I do with it?’ They feel like the cycle’s been completed if they can give it to somebody and save it from the landfill,” Thornley explained.
As with any acquisition, library staff had to get the pans ready for circulation in time for the June 2 launch. They’re stored in hanging bags like kits, but have their numbers etched directly into the metal of the pans. “When we floated the idea, the catalogers were giddy. They said, ‘How do we categorize them? Is it a ring or is it a bundt?’ That’s cataloger humor for you,” Thornley said.
Charles County even scheduled one librarian to bake all morning before the program “because we wanted the library to smell like cake,” Thornley explained. The effort worked: just ten days after the launch, over half of the pans were checked out, as were many of the baking and cake decorating books displayed.
The librarian who baked is getting cake as a regular part of her job description: she’s taking classes in cake decoration, with the eventual goal of teaching it at the library for free. “She just came by the office and said I’d love to do a summer camp for kids with cake decorating, cupcake decorating, cookie decorating,” said Thornley. “We have cupcake wars every fall and that has been well-responded to.”
“As far as we know we are the first cake pan library in Maryland,” said Thornley. Charles County did check in with cake pan libraries elsewhere in the country and got some commonsensical advice: make clear the checkout dates, the return, and what you expect when they come back in. “We tell people, ‘wash it both before you use it and after,’” said Thornley. “We check them when they come in, and if there are still some crumbs we just wash them again.”
Beyond simple, tasty fun, “we want to add new services for our community to add new users and redefine the library,” said Thornley. “Because people still think just books. When we tell people what we are doing it captures their attention. I have many customers who say ‘I have not been in this library since elementary school’ or ‘since my children were little.’ We say ‘I hope we can keep you as a regular now.’”