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Smart, Urban, Easy, Open: Rebranding the Grand Rapids Public Library

Grand Rapids Public Library
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Problem Statement

The Grand Rapids Public Library’s current identity and market position indicated that it would be a good time to undertake a branding initiative. There was a lack of differentiation in the market. People in the community did not understand the differences between the Grand Rapids Public Library and other Library systems, especially Kent District Library, the suburban system surrounding GRPL. There was no consistent visual identity being used. Five different logos were in use and none of them clearly defined the identity of the organization. The Library’s new strategic plan called for the Library to “be recognized as an essential community resource, educating the community to understand and support the Library’s role in serving the common good.” The goal of this initiative was to clearly articulate and visually represent the Grand Rapids Public Library. Our current image and brand was not achieving this.


The two-person communications department created a new image for the library, including a new logo, a redesign of all print and online materials, library signage, and more. The new logo combines traditional library symbols with shapes reminiscent of the city. The new brand was implemented in three phases, with the final phase completed in 2009. The four elements of the brand are:
  • Urban – The most obvious thing that differentiates the Grand Rapids Public Library from other libraries in the area is that it serves the City of Grand Rapids and its diverse population. It is an urban Library and it excels at meeting the needs of its patrons.
  • Smart – Not knowledgeable, not intelligent, smart. A patron makes a smart choice by going to the Grand Rapids Public Library. The Library offers a lot of materials and programs to make a person smarter. The people who work at the Library are smart. Smart is accessible, it is easy to understand and easy to feel.
  • Open – The Library is a welcoming place that is open to different ideas and different points of view. The Library is nonjudgmental—we have an open mind. Better yet, the Library helps the user open their mind to new ideas and information.
  • Easy – Visiting the Library is easy. The locations are easy to find. It is easy to park or get there by mass transportation. It is easy to find what you are looking for. It is easy to use. It is a relaxed environment.


Since implementing the new brand in 2007, new library card registrations are up 8%. Currently 66% of Grand Rapids residents have a library card. Children’s program attendance has increased 50% and patron visits have gone up 12%. What has decreased is patron confusion about the two library systems. Library staff report a significant decrease in patron confusion between the two library systems and the number of written complaints has also decreased.