February 16, 2018

2010 Library of the Year: Columbus Metropolitan Library

(A preview from LJ‘s June 15, 2010 issue.)

“We have $40 million on the line. Our levy is on the ballot in November,” says Patrick Losinksi, executive director of Ohio’s Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML), winner of the Gale/Library Journal Library of the Year Award 2010. Over the entrance to the 103-year-old Carnegie building that is the systems main library are the words “Open to all.” The reasons behind CML receiving the award become clear when you hear Losinski elaborate on that motto.

“Those three words permeate our strategic plan. It’s one of our values. It’s a strategy for our virtual users, making technology open to all,” he says. “On the other hand, I just told a local bank president that “Open to all” cannot be translated to mean all things to all people. If we do that we’re going to be mediocre and average in a lot of things, rather than great for a few.”

In the process, Losinski reveals a lot about what makes CML both effective and efficient and enables the library and its staff to be ready to deal with any and every situation, including massive budget cuts in 2009. Those prompted local newsman Mike Curtin, editor emeritus of the Columbus Dispatch, to give CML librarians one of their favorite slogans: “A world class library on a shoestring budget.”

Focus guided by research

CML, comprised of an operations center and 21 branches, serves the 847,376 people who inhabit a large portion of Franklin County in central Ohio. It is an independent library with its own taxing district. The 2009 budget was $45,535,080, down nearly $9 million from 2008 because of cuts in state funding for libraries. The folks who use the library each borrowed about 20 items last year and averaged ten visits. Residents each paid $52.20 for library service. One unique branch, Northwest Library, is shared and jointly managed with Worthington Libraries, the Gale/LJ Library of the Year 2007.

CML operates with a tight focus on a carefully researched and developed strategic plan of which the managers and staff are very proud. “What do we use to direct the action? Our strategic plan. When we lost funding, what do you think guided our decisions? Our strategic plan,” asserts Alison Circle, in charge of marketing, communications, and brand management for CML and writer of LJ‘s Bubble Room blog.

The culture of CML has become one of perpetual strategic planning, adaptability, constant investment in efficiency, and attention to chosen priorities. It has imbued the staff with an unusual receptivity to change, and they get and engineer lots of it and rework the plan at regular intervals. The whole staff is engaged in a training discussion based on William Bridges’s book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Emphasizing a marketing approach to planning, the CML leadership team came up with some 15 categories of “customer behavior,” taking great pains to explain in the award application that these were “not demographics.” They boiled the 15 items down to three external priorities based on the behaviors, plus two internal ones aimed at efficiency and staff “development.

This article was published in Library Journal. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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