The Best Small Library in America award was created in 2005 to honor libraries that meet the challenges of smaller budgets, space, technology, and collections and still find ways to bring expanded, innovative, and supportive services to their smaller communities. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for the past decade the award has encouraged and showcased exemplary work in libraries serving populations under 25,000. Judging criteria include creativity in developing model services and programs, innovations in public access computing, demonstrated community support, and evidence of the library’s role as community center. This year LJ looks back to see how the award has influenced the winning libraries, their communities, and their futures.
Finding great books is getting even harder now as more and more books are published every year. Nearly a million new books flooded the market last year alone—about half of them self-published. LJ’s Patron Profiles data shows that libraries can be a great source for book discovery—32 percent of patrons find books to read or borrow from libraries. But there are still many more readers to reach. Readers’ advisory and online discovery both continue to play big roles in connecting readers to new titles, authors, and even genres they might not have sought out on their own. In the physical space, there is much more that can be done by reinventing how libraries approach the art of the display.
Going beyond books, library gift shops are raising funds and awareness for a growing number of Friends and foundations. Libraries have long held sales of deaccessioned or donated books once or twice a year, usually run by all-volunteer Friends of the Library organizations. Many have dedicated spaces or rooms where books can be purchased year-round. These in-house used bookshops are moneymakers for libraries, with stock that’s often liberally seeded with last year’s best sellers. Following the lead of many bookstores, libraries are discovering a strong source of fundraising revenue in nonbook merchandise.
On January 5 Vickery Bowles became Toronto’s newest city librarian. Bowles has been with the Toronto Public Library (TPL) for 32 years, most recently as director of collections management and citywide services, and will now oversee one of the world’s busiest library systems, with 99 (soon to be 100) branches, some 2,000 employees, and 10 million items in its collections.
After serving as executive director of the Omaha Public Library since January 2010, Gary Wasdin recently made a move across the country to take on the position of library director of the King County Library System (KCLS), WA. KCLS, chosen as the Gale/LJ 2011 Library of the Year, is a thriving and diverse library system spread across the 2,000 square mile county to the north, south, and east of Seattle (which maintains its own library system). The 48-branch system serves both urban and rural areas, and is currently well into a $172 million capital bond renovation and expansion program launched in 2004. Bill Ptacek, previously director of the King County system for 25 years, left in December 2013 to become CEO of the Calgary Public Library in Canada.
Over the last decade, Belgrade, MT, has grown and shifted from a small agricultural town to a diverse community of 12,700 in the exurbs of nearby Bozeman. In tandem, the Belgrade Community Library (BCL) has reimagined library services and aggressively developed new outreach efforts to meet the community’s changing needs. The result is intense engagement and support from the community and an impact that extends beyond Belgrade’s borders through active partnerships and state-level leadership.