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Improving Our Library Environment

Salt Lake City Public Library

Innovation Summary

It is a challenge familiar to urban libraries across the country: how do you create a welcoming environment with services and resources for all? SLCPL couldn't answer that question alone, so we invited community experts to the table, resulting in a multifaceted solution that works.

Problem Statement

The award-winning Salt Lake City Public Library faces challenges shared by many urban public libraries across the country. With a mission to provide information and resources to all who walk through our doors, we serve a broad, diverse and growing population. With this mission in mind, one challenge in recent years has been defining what those resources are, especially for the homeless, mentally ill and impoverished individuals that frequent our locations. While it is never our intention to limit access to these underserved populations, The City Library seeks to strike a balance to ensure the Library is a welcoming, safe, and dynamic environment where everyone can discover, explore and learn. Transitional Director Linda Hamilton heard the need for balance from staff, community, and Library Square commercial tenants. Hamilton recognized that while the Library staff may not always have all the solutions, we are experts in bringing together community partners to find the right one. In January 2012, Hamilton called leaders to the table from Salt Lake County Human Services, the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and the Library administration to find ways to best serve the neediest in our community.


The organizations were eager to help, and the solutions arrived at are two-fold: connecting people with already-existing services, and training. Salt Lake County Human Services viewed the City Library’s mission of providing resources to everyone as a unique opportunity to connect a captive audience with already existing services in the community. They contracted with Volunteers of America for three case managers who will be stationed at the Library. Their role will be to engage people who could benefit from a variety of social services in the community and work with those interested to connect them to the help they need. These case managers will also provide transportation to these services. The Salt Lake City Police Department has increased their presence on Library Square. These police officers are certified in Crisis Intervention Training, and their intention is not to simply react to specific incidents, rather, to understand the root cause of situations and respond with a more holistic approach. Their training includes diffusing situations and connecting people with social services when they are needed. In addition to connecting people with services, there is a need for training on how to interact with those who may be in need of immediate services such as mental health or substance abuse treatment. Volunteers of America and the Salt Lake City Police Department will be conducting training for staff and employees of the commercial tenants on topics such as how to interact with someone who is in trouble and how to diffuse situations with patrons who may need help. Additionally, the Department of Workforce Services will be training staff on how to better connect patrons with job resources, which compliments the Library’s existing public classes on basic computer skills, such as how to use email and how to write a digital resume.


While The City Library and our partners are in the process of assembling the various components of our Library Environment project, we have already received positive feedback from the community. In the midst of national media coverage telling negative stories of crime and pornography in public libraries across the country, we had a unique, solution-oriented story for our local media outlets. Coverage from The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/HIZ4qG), local NPR affiliate KCPW (http://bit.ly/Iv1uuU), and local Fox affiliate KSTU (http://bit.ly/GC5cl6) helped spur dialog in the community about what a library can be and shifted many people’s perceptions about traditional library services. Not only does this widely-publicized initiative help improve the Library’s brand and reinforce our mission of providing access to information and resources for all, but it also helps our community understand fundamentally what a library is. Resources found at a library are more than just books and audio-visual materials. We provide a place for people to connect with community organizations, for individuals to connect with ideas, and for people to connect with each other. We are a dynamic, inclusionary place, listening to what the public wants and needs and finding ways to answer their call. This shift in perception opens even more opportunities for The City Library to connect with our community.