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Beyond Borders The Library that Bought a Bookstore

Pioneer Library System, OK
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Innovation Summary

Pioneer’s first purchase of property brought opportunities to - centralize system administration, - offer the City of Norman space for a branch library in a prime location, - use the lease income to support operation of the building, - implement new service models - and look good doing it!

Problem Statement

When Borders Book Store announced its closing in the summer of 2011, the Pioneer Library System, Oklahoma’s first multi-county library system, again explored new territory by moving quickly to purchase the 25,000 sq. ft. building. Pioneer system staff members were located in three locations: two leased sites and the Norman Public Library. The new building, located in prime retail space near I-35, not only offered space to create a Pioneer headquarters, but was also an ideal location for a second branch to serve west Norman. Pioneer’s partnership with its cities in providing branch libraries requires each city to provide and maintain the facility. Pioneer approached the City of Norman and offered up to 7,000 sq. ft. of space that Pioneer would initially pay to design, remodel and furnish with the agreement that the City would lease the space and reimburse PLS for related expenses. While a local architect (Randy Foster, Kaighn Associates) served as the project architect and designed the administration space, Pioneer engaged MS&R Design, Minneapolis, to design the library space with a focus on the implementation of new service models as well as Pioneer’s first coffee shop. Construction began in December, 2012 and the building was occupied in October, 2013, with the new Norman Public Library West opening on November 1, 2013.


  • Pioneer is not permitted to borrow funds so it was necessary to accumulate funds in reserve and be ready for an opportunity to purchase and remodel the right property.
  • An online survey and two focus groups were conducted to engage the Norman community in conversation about use of the building for a branch library.
  • Pioneer negotiated a unique agreement with the City of Norman to lease space from Pioneer for a new branch library. The agreement includes terms for the City’s repayment of funds for the design, remodel and furnishing paid initially by Pioneer.
  • Back-of-house services for the branch are provided by PLS Administration. The space leased to the City is all public space. The building is designed to allow Pioneer’s collections department to provide circulation functions for the branch library, utilizing a 15 bin sorter to serve both system and branch functions.
  • New service models for the branch library include a concierge help desk, focus upon self-serve, use of the new branch as a training location for new employees, and a “genius bar” function provided by the system’s Virtual Library.
  • To make it financially viable for a coffee shop vendor to operate successfully, the space was completely outfitted by Pioneer and leased to a local vendor selected through an RFP process.
  • An Envisionware 24-Hour Library located in the entry plaza offers holds pick-up and browsing. A Spin MediaBank “Movie Box” is located along side.
  • NPL Central staff members work the NPL West branch to experience the new service models and insure integration of communication between the branches.


The Norman community welcomed the new Norman Public Library West and celebrated Pioneer’s continued use of the Borders building for a book-related purpose. The purchase, remodeling and opening of the Pioneer Building is stimulating interest in new libraries for Norman, raising hope for a campaign for new central and east libraries. Centralizing system staff and services creates new efficiencies in operation. Giving up two spaces leased by Pioneer while at the same time leasing the library space to the City makes the operation of the building a financial win for Pioneer. Using the small branch library as an environment to test and refine new services and operations is exciting and offers new possibilities. All new employees now spend their first 24 hours with PLS trainers in the system’s new training lab and shadowing staff on the floor of the NPL West branch. Appointments with Virtual Library staff enable customers to move toward use of digital resources; this one-on-one help model will be implemented in other branches. A “Lesson Learned” is that remodeling may be more difficult and perhaps just as expensive as building new, although it would have been impossible to secure as desirable a location anywhere else.