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Reimagining Historic Cossitt Library

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Reimagining Historic Cossitt Library

Memphis Public Libraries, Tenn.

Equity and Inclusion | 2018

Innovation Synopsis

Memphis Public Libraries’ Cossitt Branch is undergoing a community-driven renovation process to ensure equitable access while creating a robust selection of programming that addresses the diverse needs of the surrounding neighborhoods. Branch staff is utilizing innovative strategies to engage stakeholders and build a shared vision for the library’s future.


The historic Cossitt Branch Library located in downtown Memphis was established in 1893. Not only does Cossitt represent the birth of the Memphis Public Libraries system, it is also the first southern library to be desegregated. In recent years, staff has faced the challenge of trying to merge programming that meets the needs of the diverse customer bases served, including a large homeless population, empty-nesters, affluent couples and young professionals living and working downtown.

Key Elements of Innovation

Staff has embarked upon a multi-phase, community-driven planning process to redesign the public space and incorporate innovative programming to better reflect the needs of the surrounding community. One of these new programs, A Community Dinner Conversation, partners with local shelters and resource providers to facilitate dialogue between homeless patrons and workers/residents from the surrounding area. This dialogue has resulted in increased empathy, feelings of community and a shared vision for the library’s future.

Achieved Outcomes

Cossitt Library is currently undergoing extensive remodeling based on community recommendations gleaned from the planning phase. These updates will enhance program capacity to better serve the unique needs of the surrounding neighborhood. The branch will offer everything from enhanced social service referrals and job readiness resources to a wide variety of STEAM programming. Community Dinner Conversations will continue to bridge the divide between patrons and create a feeling of community and open dialogue between stakeholders.