CLR Case Studies–Cleveland Public Library

Serving the Community


A guiding principle in the development of the library’s programs and its technological innovation has been to pay close attention to the needs of the community and to the library’s patrons. “You must listen to your public,” says library director Mason. The process of renewing the library’s tax levy every five years affords an opportunity for the library to measure the level of its public support. Moreover, the customer drives the library’s programming and services. The library is outwardly directed and focused. The design of its new east wing, with large glass windows, is an appropriate metaphor for how the library casts its eye on the community to determine where it should be headed.

The use of technology has enabled the library to reach out to people who do not regularly use libraries and to serve a growing clientele of business and professional people who are hungry for information. Mason has made sure that the library is positioned so that it is the first place people go when they are in search of information. The library uses a professional polling service before each tax levy goes before the public. The library administration uses what it learns to design campaigns; for example, they have learned that children’s services and books are popular and create support for the renewal of the tax levy. This is an interesting observation at a time in library history when electronic resources receive far more media attention than books, and in a city with an extensive public electronic library.

“We routinely try pilot projects at branches and develop ongoing programs, not one-shot activities. We try out new programs; if they work then we spread them across the city,” says Mason. Library programs concentrate on children, foreign language literature, English as a second language, and preservation. The library’s manager of foreign language collections reports that in 1995, the circulation of non-English language materials surpassed the circulation of English language fiction. She has worked hard with branches to promote foreign literature collections, reaching out to other libraries, organizations with an ethnic emphasis, ethnic restaurants, and bakeries to encourage use of the library’s collections.

One of the Cleveland Public Library’s priorities is to strengthen its services to children over the next five years. In partnership with community organizations and the school system, the library sponsors a wide variety of reading programs and computer activities. Programs include computer software for learners of English as a second language and computers for children to use for word processing. So many of these programs are now part of the library’s ongoing services that the staff considers them part of the routine and not necessarily special. Nevertheless, these programs do enhance library outreach through technology.

The Cleveland Public Library online systems always have offered patrons a facility for leaving messages online for library staff. But the library decided early not to offer e-mail or usenet communication functions. Because the Cleveland Free-net was offering these services to the same audience, this choice was not controversial. The Cleveland Free-net and the Cleveland Public Library have complementary services with some overlap, described by the library as, “we point to them, and they point to us.”