Public libraries seek to rebrand

Za'kiyah Moor, 3, at work on a computer at the Willingboro Public Library with her mother, Ashley Lee. "You have to keep up with all of the trends," says library director Christine King. "We want to dispel the notion that we all do is dispense books."
Za'kiyah Moor, 3, at work on a computer at the Willingboro Public Library with her mother, Ashley Lee. "You have to keep up with all of the trends," says library director Christine King. "We want to dispel the notion that we all do is dispense books." (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 21, 2014

In a sign of the times, the Willingboro Public Library is trying to reinvent itself with a fresh slogan and logo to make it more relevant.

"You have to keep up with all of the trends," said library director Christine King. "We want to dispel the notion that we all do is dispense books."

In seeking to rebrand itself, the library has embarked on an ambitious mission to change its image as a community center where visitors can attend workshops, take an exercise class, or see an art exhibit.

"We want people to know that you can get information, but you can also get information that can change your life," King said in a recent interview.

Across the country, libraries are undergoing a similar transformation.

Libraries today are no longer just a place for print and e-books or a place to access the Internet, said Barbara Stripling, president of the American Library Association.

"It's really changing. They're not a static place anymore," said Stripling, an assistant professor at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies.

To meet the changing needs of residents, they have become community centers offering programs that typically range from wine tastings and knitting clubs to art exhibits and film series.

More than 10,000 librarians from around the country will discuss the changing role of libraries amid shrinking budgets at the association's midwinter meeting in Philadelphia next week.

"We're really stepping up to a role," Stripling said. "The momentum is to become a very vital center of the community."

In South Jersey, the Cherry Hill Library plans workshops on topics ranging from college financial aid to services for veterans. Beyond traditional storytelling for youngsters, it also has a Lego club and a Pokemon game day.

The Deptford Library has increasingly become a social outlet, especially for senior citizens and crafters, director Susanne Sacchetti said. It held an annual tea party for youngsters Friday.

"The library has become that place where people go," Sacchetti said. "It's about connecting people to people."

In Pennsylvania, the Radnor Public Library is considering a small expansion that would dedicate new space to things other than the book collection, trustee Rick Eckstein said.

"There is a shift in emphasis away from traditional print collections and toward a more eclectic view," said Eckstein, a Villanova sociology professor and expert on sports branding.

A 2013 study by the Pew Research Center found library use had declined, but most Americans believe public libraries are important for their communities.

Last year, about 58 percent of Americans visited libraries or bookmobiles, down from 53 percent the previous year, the study found. Ninety-four percent said libraries help improve community quality of life.

The Willingboro Library hopes to capitalize on how much residents in the Burlington County community value it. It has about 36,000 active members.

In November, it adopted a new tagline selected through a contest. Reference librarian Susan Hacker came up with the winner: "Opportunity for everyone."

Her inspiration was the library's new vision statement, which reads, in part: "We envision a place where everyone can grasp opportunity."

"It's very simple. I tried to boil it down," Hacker said in an interview last week. "We're really focusing on the opportunity to advance."

Last year, the library assisted more than 800 people with job searches, Hacker said. Library officials can proctor exams for students enrolled at Thomas Edison State College in Trenton and notarize documents, she said.

King said library officials hope someone comes up with a logo with more pizazz to replace the current blue 1970s-era logo displaying the letters WPL and the words Your community information center.

"We're hoping that we receive something fresh, new, and forward-thinking," she said.

The logo contest began Jan. 13 and runs through Feb. 17. The winner, to be announced March 5, will receive a $250 cash prize.

For more information: www.willingboro.org.


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

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