How do you get people to come to a brick-and-mortar building filled with books? It’s a question Borders couldn’t answer. It’s a question Apple and Amazon have said doesn’t even need answering.
So what do you do if you’re a modern library system? Enter the world and challenges of Ann Burlingame and her team. Burlingame is the deputy director of Wake County Public Libraries (WCPL), a growing and vibrant award-winning library system.
First, it started with a change in mindset: “Libraries are about books, but libraries are about experiences too,” says Burlingame. “We want to build that bridge to the public.” With that in mind, WCPL has changed with the times and redefined what it means to be a great library system.
“It started in the 1990s, before that is was just about books and reading,” explains Burlingame. “When we got public computers that really changed our user base, and that brought in a population that had not been traditional library users. So we started to adapt and be there for them.”
With the shift that came with public PCs and Burlingame’s decision to embrace that shift, WCPL made another important decision — it needed to make the library not just about moving books, but about being a place people wanted to come to.
“We shifted programming, and we’ve expanded what we do for young children,” explains Burlingame. “Looking at school-age programming, the library had not done much — maybe monthly, for K-5 maybe twice a month.”
Today, WCPL offers around 140 programs for children a week — 60 just for children ages 0-5. It reached 185,000 children in the last year alone (comparably sized county systems reach about 50,000 children). You can also find a wide variety of programs for teens, adults and seniors. There’s a teen leadership initiative, movie nights, a job application class and a technology learning program called “Device Advice” — think the Apple Store genius bar without the intimidation or overwhelming scene.
And even if you’re still interested in books, WCPL has you covered. The system has about 1.3 million books in circulation and 165,000 titles available in its online digital library of e-books and audiobooks, which is managed by Ben McFadden, whose team also manages the social media for WCPL.
“And now we’ve done a lot to increase community awareness,” says McFadden. “The ‘Read. Visit. Love.’ campaign lets people submit stories of how the library helped them or why they love the library — we want WCPL to be out there and people to know what we can do for them.”
So when you think ‘library’ in Wake County, don’t you dare think just ‘books.’ WCPL is a modern hub of community education and building, lifelong learning and just plain fun. It’s a place driven by people like Burlingame, McFadden and others who just genuinely care about our community and every single person in it.