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Main Library for the 21st Century

The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
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Problem Statement

A Main Library for the 21st century is one that is flexible, dynamic and positioned to meet the ever-changing needs of its users. As of 2005 the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s 540,000 square feet Main Library was arranged according to a fifty-year-old subject department style service model that did not meet the needs of 21st century users. A project team consisting of Main Library staff at all levels was formed to assess the existing service model and to recommend changes.


The Main Library for the 21st century, or ML/21, project utilized a wide variety of data tools including traditional customer surveys, staff focus groups and usage data to gain an understanding of the experience customers were having when using the library and whether or not the model for providing service was helpful for them. The most compelling data reviewed during this large-scale reorganization project was gathered via an unobtrusive observation method adapted from a study published in 2005 by Christie M. Koontz, Dean K. Jue and Keith Curry Lance (Neighborhood-Based In-Library Use Performance Measures for Public Libraries, Library and Information Science Research., v. 27, pp. 28-50.).


The Main Library for the 21st Century resulted in the implementation of a new service model that emphasizes technology and convenience for customers. Many of the subject departments have been merged into one Information & Reference Department and the adult non-fiction collection reorganized in Dewey order making browsing of the collection intuitive for customers. A Popular Library, which contains fiction, A/V, large print, foreign fiction, a sampling of new adult non-fiction books and magazines has taken the place of the “Films and Recordings” and “Fiction” departments. A new research department, Genealogy and Local History was formed by merging Rare Books and parts of subject departments. Technology services is now provided in the TechCenter with 99 public PCs each with a wide array of software. A TeenSpot Department designed specifically for teen customers was created. With 22 computers, a teen lounge complete with restaurant booths and capable of hosting large programs and gaming events the TeenSpot is packed with teens on a daily basis. All remote activity such as answering phone calls now takes place off-desk allowing staff to devote full attention to their customers and also allowing for the implementation of a Proactive Customer Service initiative. This new model saves the Library approximately one million dollars annually. Since implementation circulation at the Main Library has increased by 30.5% and visits to the Main Library have increased 24%.