The Columbus Metropolitan Library turns the page to better serve customers

“We’ve always been successful at convincing partners, and corporations, and others that given the library’s footprint in this community we could do more if we just had some startup funds to try a new idea,” he says.

For instance, the library’s leadership convinced the library’s foundation to invest in a pilot program called Ready to Read.

It focused on meeting at-risk parents in pediatric clinics, social service agencies, free stores, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and laundromats, in order to help them understand that they were their child’s first teacher to prepare him or her for kindergarten.

It also slowly changed the CML’s story time, as the library utilized training in order to shift what it had always done.

“Our story times in the past were really about creating an event and a social gathering for both the parents and kids,” he says. “Now there’s a real purpose involved, you know, real outcomes that we’re looking for over time in terms of letter recognition and sounds, and the growth in literary skills from birth to age 5 or 6.”

It was a different approach that they implemented little by little.

“As we had some success, it turned into more success and more time for people externally and even internally for our staff to understand that this would be an area of greater priority for the library,” Losinski says.

Seek the right help

Another key is admitting what you don’t know as you head into new territory, and then finding the resources and right collaborations to fill those gaps.

Losinski says he looked at how to supplement the trained librarians with early childhood reading specialists, and how to work with The Ohio State University to evaluate the effectiveness of the library’s programming.

As vacancies opened up, the CML sought new skills to meet its new needs.

The library also worked more closely with nonprofits and the school system to determine how it could use library resources in a different way.

Losinski says the CML now has a school delivery service that sends public library materials to supplement what is available in classrooms or the school library.

The library has a partnership and solicits community donations for the Books on the Bus program to keep children reading while on the school bus.

The CML came up with a special fine-exempt library card that allows children to check out three books so kids couldn’t be blocked from using their card.

It also started a Reading Buddies program where children practice reading for community volunteers who help them sound out words and test their comprehension.

You can only be successful when you understand your strengths and weaknesses.

“It’s recognizing which things we’re really good at and admitting where we might need some help, and understanding that we’ll have to secure those services from others,” Losinski says.

For example, the library has business analysts who help on the data side, because the CML is measuring so much more than just the number of checkouts.

Losinski says the library also has a pilot contract with Learning Circle Education Services to start to study the correlation between children who register for library programs and their school performance.

“We are constantly evaluating, looking at feedback, attempting to adjust in flight, if you will, to make sure that we’re doing a better job,” he says.

The original concept of the homework help centers, for instance, has been modified to help smaller groups for greater quality interactions, and the CML’s new branches embrace the fact that libraries aren’t just about circulation.

Losinski says the new buildings are larger. They have the same size collection but also include other features like the kindergarten readiness centers and designated space for educational partners.

Repurposed resources

When you’re heading in a new direction, sustainability is always an issue.