Running libraries the Anythink way

Anythink Libraries banner photo by Davidking / Flickr

Anythink Libraries (c) Davidking / Flickr

If you believe what you read then a miraculous transformation has taken place in Rangeview’s Libraries since gaining independence in 2004 from Adams County Public Library and becoming Anythink in 2009.

According to a recent Guardian article;

“Anythink Libraries in Denver, Colorado, have quadrupled circulation and visitor numbers in seven years by connecting with users and raising its own levy”

And from an ALA article comes the bold statement:

“it looks like Rangeview, led by director Pam Sandlian Smith and a forward-thinking board, has the library equivalent of the Midas touch.”

In 2010 Anythink were invited to talk at the PLA Conference, were awarded a National Medal for Museum and Library Service and Pam Sandlian Smith was named the Colorado Association of Libraries (CAL) Librarian of the Year.

They have also managed to build or renovate 7 new libraries and according to a recent article in the ALA Magazine this has caused an “economic ripple effect” on the surrounding communities.

So what is the Anythink model?

Well they don’t charge fines, don’t use Dewey, they don’t use traditional titles for staff preferring instead to call them a ‘wrangler’, ‘concierge’ or ‘guide’ and in 2009 re-branded their libraries as the Anythink concept and logo. As you can already tell it’s not exactly a conventional set up for a public library service, they even have their own staff manifesto which tells employees that they are “part wizard part genius part explorer”. In their brochure they also state “ideas should have no boundaries” and that the libraries are “a building with no walls”. Anythink claim too have taken their inspiration from the Idea Store concept in the UK and from the Apple Store.

“They’re discernibly libraries but with some tweaks. Most important, there’s no reference desk but a “front perch” and “back perch” (and sometimes another), stand-up stations where librarians (er, Guides) and Concierges offer quick assistance. The buildings—the product of a stutter-step process that began eight years ago—are organized for flexibility, not for books.” In the Country of Anythink – LJ – 15.10.10

So it’s all wonderful in Anythink land. Well maybe not! According to an article published in LJ in 2010 the use of self-service kiosks means that there are no desks so staff are expected to roam or as we know it ‘floor walk’ for a considerable part of the day prompting this comment on the LJ website:

“Posted by Carol Kunzler on November 17, 2010 01:41:07AM

I would be especially interested as to how, as they age (not easy to opt out of that one), staff “hold up”, physically, since they seem to be expected to be on their feet almost continuously(60 hours per week? Really?!). Are there any “disabled” or physically challenged staff, or does one have to just “fade away” as their bodies age and they can no longer accomplish the task they were hired for (is that when they can “opt” for a “lesser” title, and pay?)? Or will segways (segues?) be issued to improve mobility? Perhaps the library’s “leaders” got their heads stuck in the “cloud” too long—wake up and drift down to earth and the very real looming problems (challenges!) that lie ahead. (Does that make them “Didn’tthinklongandhardenough”-ers?) “

The whole model operates on a very tight budget with great emphasis put on self-service and ‘lean’ staffing, which according to the LJ article, mentioned above, can cause confusion and a lack of focus:

“such a proactive service has its trade-offs, since there may be no one discernibly in charge. LJ observed some kids scampering around the main part of the Wright Farms flagship library, unchecked, and one neighboring librarian, visiting as a patron, says other customers invariably ask her for help finding books.” LJ 2010

A comment from their Human Resources Director Susan Dobbs also paints a picture of tight budgets and short staffing:

“Human Resources director Dobbs likens Anythink “very much to a start-up,” with a lean staff working long hours, fueled by passion.” LJ 2010

Also:

“With a significant chunk of its budget devoted to building expenditures, Rangeview keeps personnel expenditures costs to about 60 percent. The staff is relatively thin, but front-line staff did get raises this year, thanks in part to careful fiscal management, such as discounts on benefits and from vendors.” LJ 2010

When the Anythink model was launched all existing staff had to re-apply for the newly re-branded jobs, 95% got jobs and one of the 5% who didn’t left due to her shock at seeing that the reference desk had gone.

An other contentious issue could be that Anythink don’t require a Branch Manager to hold a library qualification or to have a public library background:

“A library degree isn’t required to run a branch. In Brighton, one of the region’s fastest-growing communities, Todd Cordrey serves as Anythink Manager/Experience Expert. A former real estate broker and president of the local school board, he’s finishing his master’s in public administration.” LJ 2010

So to summarise Anythink’s model has delivered increases in issues and usage and has excited and delighted many but at the same time their use of retail concepts and ‘lean’ staffing could give some cause for concern.

Mia Breitkopf sums up the concept“One public library system in Colorado has completely rethought how it does business. The Rangeview Library System in Thornton, Colorado, has branded itself “Anythink“, as in, “I think I’m going to head over to the Anythink in Bennett, play guitar hero for a bit, grab a book of one of the bookstore-like categorized shelves, and record my oral history story with the mixed media artist so she can use it in the public history project.”

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