10 Year Anniversary Series: What's New at the Main Library

Cincinnati may be the 65th largest city in the US, but did you know that it boasts the second busiest library in the country, preceded only by New York City? “That’s because we’re always looking at ways of being on the front edge,” says Paula Brehm-Heeger, Chief Strategy and Technology Officer at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Back in 2008, the main library had just begun work on a “Main Library for the 21st Century” strategic plan. Soapbox reviewed key offerings at the downtown library such as the Teenspot, Technology Center with desktop computer access, a Small Business Resource Center and a Virtual Library accessible from home. As part of our Ten Year Anniversary series, Soapbox looks back at how the main library has changed in the past ten years—and looks forward to what’s next for the beloved civic institution.

“We’ve definitely had some major changes, many around technology,” said Brehm-Heeger. The biggest has been the addition of the Makerspace, just across from the Teenspot in the north annex building. “It offers such a wide variety of technologies for people to use directly. Some are things people use for hobbies, some for small businesses and entrepreneurs,” she explained.

Public Library 3D PrinterWith the help of dedicated Makerspace staff, patrons can use 3D printers, audio and visual equipment, laser cutters and engravers, an Espresso book machine, a vinyl banner printer, sewing machines, cameras and other hardware and software tools. Reservations for the equipment are made online for short blocks of time, and materials associated with use of the machines are paid by the patron but fees are kept to a minimum. Due to the popularity of the Makerspace, Mini Makerspaces have also been installed at the Loveland and Reading branches.

Technology has continued to play an important and ever-growing role at the library, both customer facing and behind the scenes. Self-checkout has been a mainstay at the library for a number of years, but the library implemented RFID tagging so that patrons no longer have to scan a barcode. They just tap the book at checkout and are on their way. The library has also implemented automatic sorting systems to move material quickly and get it out to branches.

The library is also part of the “SearchOhio” system, a group of public and academic libraries throughout the state. ”If the Cincinnati library doesn’t have a book, patrons can search statewide, and a courier service will deliver it to their local branch. “This has greatly expanded the reach of what we can provide locally,” explained Brehm-Heeger.

Reach and access are important factors for patrons, which is why the main library recently began offering a laptop kiosk service. With just a library card, patrons can borrow laptop computers with the same features as the desktops and use them anywhere in the building. “This is a new option for our customers and really represents how people like to be mobile, we’re trying to adapt to that,” said Brehm-Heeger.

Another “huge boom area” at the library are eBook, eAudiobooks, and digital material offerings. There is now a large catalog of eBooks available through the library website, as well as complimentary specialized offerings such as “Ask a Librarian,” which gives cardholders access to a holds list for new eBooks, eAudiobooks, and print materials. Other tech-enabled programs include “Hot Tickets,” which lets patrons reserve new-release DVDs in a genre of their choice. “Book Hookup” sends personalized book recommendations based on interests, and “CD of the Month Club” gives personal music recommendations.

The library doesn’t just give patrons the opportunity to read, listen, and view for pleasure, it serves as an important resource for job seekers and professionals. During the recession, the Cincinnati library and libraries across the country became an essential resource for people with job and employment difficulties. The library offers trainings and works closely with Ohio Means Job and other partners. Library patrons have access to online training courses through the library that would otherwise charge a subscription service such Lynda and Treehouse, both of which provide self-paced tutorials for topics as varied as web design, programming, and project management.

The breadth and customization of services helped the library win a National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2013, the nation’s highest honor for libraries awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. 2017 also marks the fifth year running that the library was deemed a five star library system by Library Journal.

The library continues to be an important resource at the heart of the community, just as it was in 2008. “We are incredibly busy with 494,000 cardholders, 19.8 million items in circulation, and 41 locations,” said Brehm-Heeger, with no signs of slowing.

For more information and to plan your visit to the Main library, visit their website and like the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kamal Kimball.

Kamal Kimball is a freelance writer and co-founder of Ampersand Creative Services.