Best Small Library in America 2010: Glen Carbon Centennial Library, IL

Delivering on “Yes”

Smiling librarians greet you by name when you arrive at the Glen Carbon Centennial Library (GCCL), IL. After that great welcome, you notice that everyone is still smiling, and no matter whom you ask on that small staff of 15, they'll tell you they love working there. If you probe a bit further, they become downright passionate about the place and offer you a set of services and a model in how they run their library. This attitude and the execution behind it earned the library LJ's Best Small Library in America Award 2010, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. That response to every patron is no coincidence; it is planned and professional. It is also not just because GCCL hires happy people, although it apparently does. The Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce, with which GCCL partners for a number of programs, brought staff development people from Disney to town for a program called “Disney's Keys to Excellence.” GCCL director Anne Hughes was one of the 500 people who attended. The staff came up with the GCCL motto, “More than you expect.” That motto is visible on every print and digital publication of GCCL. It accurately reflects the hard work of the staff, the creative programs, the well-chosen resources, and the many initiatives the library has undertaken to serve the Glen Carbon community. The southern Illinois town of about 12,000 is 30 minutes by car across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. Many of the farms that once surrounded it are now subdivisions, and the town was named one of the 100 best spots to live in the United States by Money magazine in 2009. At GCCL, they believe they are one of the reasons for that distinction. The citizens apparently agree, supporting GCCL to the tune of $53 per capita annually. Although the community has not grown much, in the past two years 2,313 new borrowers have registered, more than 35 percent of the patron total of 6430. The door count is up 33 percent from 2007. From Director Hughes to the newest part-time assistant, this attitude of doing whatever it takes to encourage every patron to come back permeates GCCL and is the foundation that makes it a model small library. GCCL delivers much “more than you expect.”

The most important people

“A lot of what I heard was what I thought we already do,” says Hughes about her experience with the Disney experts. “The surprise was that they believe the most important people on their campuses (you assume that would be their guests) are their staff! Of course they teach each staff member to treat each guest as a VIP, but they also teach treating your coworkers as you would a guest. We practice that kind of teamwork here at GCCL,” Hughes reports. Even tasks like bringing the load in from the book drop, much begrudged in nearly every library, are approached, she says, with, “Can I give you a hand?” The staff thank one another for that assistance, and to build on that they give out the “Gotcha” awards at their monthly meeting as a way to thank colleagues publicly. “They truly inspire me...,” says Hughes. “I feel like we have the perfect storm of a staff, or maybe here in southern Illinois they should be called tornadoes as they whirl in and out of my office with great ideas.” The library is a participating and very active member of the Lewis and Clark Library System (LCLS), headquartered in nearby Edwardsville. The system is a big one and has the uniquely Illinois membership of some 131 institutions of all types—academic, public, school, and special libraries. GCCL trustee Susan Mendelsohn serves on the system's Board of Directors, and Hughes, Magi Henderson, GCCL's youth services director, and Michelle Petersen, head of circulation at GCCL, serve on system committees. GCCL is one of the system's most active members, according to LCLS executive director Tina Hubert.

Fostering professionalism

“We're all librarians here!” Hughes continues proudly, despite her being the only staffer who holds an MLS. Of the 15 GCCL librarians, only the five on the management team are full time. Students working for an MLS in the online LEEP program, the distance education course of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois, sometimes do internships at GCCL to help them decide if they want a library career, according to Janet McAllister, GCCL assistant director. The experience has convinced many that they are in the right field. “When we hire we look at personality. We let them know that customer service is number one. After all, if people don't come here, we don't have a job,” says McAllister. “The economic times have made the library more important and much more used. Our budget has been maintained so far, but the Lewis and Clark Library System is getting hit.” McAllister handles collection development for adult books, spending $1000 a month, and goes through all donations to add them to the collection or put them in the library's book sale. She also takes care of GCCL's user-friendly and informative web page. GCCL uses the relatively sophisticated Millennium system from Innovative Interfaces. The library adds 400 to 500 items a month, according to Susan Kesler, head of cataloging. She and an assistant match new books to records and then label, barcode, and jacket the books. Kesler attends 16 hours of cataloging continuing education each year, mostly at LCLS HQ, along with a monthly catalogers meeting. “I always learn something new there, and recently we've been discussing the change from AACR2 to the new RDA,” she reports. All five on the management team are almost always present when GCCL is open, and the place is open seven days a week for a total of 64 hours. The front desk is attended by two from the rest of the staff. An assistant is on duty in the youth and children's area.

A culture that says, “Yes!”

In addition to a “Suggestion Blog,” the GCCL staff came up with a “No to yes log.” Every time they have to say “no” to a patron request, they enter it in the wiki log, and at their regular meetings, the management team goes over the log and tries to figure out ways to turn the “no” into a “yes.” Staffers have the autonomy to make many changes on the spot, under Hughes's mantra: “Use your best judgment in the best interest of the patron. There are never any bad consequences when the patron leaves happy.” GCCL patrons asked for Sunday hours, and they were instituted in 2007. Use of GCCL is up 192 percent since that first year, and the library is as busy in four hours on Sunday as it is in eight on Friday. As part of its orientation for new staff, GCCL uses the film Satisfy and Delight: The Bensonville Way, produced by the Bensonville Public Library, IL. “Our approach is contagious,” says Petersen. She explains that all the staff participate in reference work, which in these times is increasingly focused on helping people find their way through digital resources to find jobs. “I'm very proud of the way the circulation staff serve patrons,” says Petersen. “It makes for a very welcoming feeling. Even when someone hasn't been here for months, they are greeted by their first name. Sometimes, because of these tough times, we just provide a bright, warm, friendly face. We definitely believe that we're the best.”

Transformed by technology

Youth Services director Henderson is obviously one of those aforementioned tornadoes on the staff. She was instrumental in developing the “Technology for All Ages” proposal to the Illinois State Library that garnered for GCCL a 2008/09 federal Library Services and Technology Act grant of $50,000 to buy all kinds of updated technology. The library uses the new equipment constantly. Increasing the number of PCs by 13 upped public use of library computers by 82 percent and enabled a host of programs that gave added confidence in their technology skills to Glen Carbon children, young adults, and seniors. Some 430 technology classes were offered in the library and senior center, teaching everything from basic email to teen computer programming, online buying and selling, and social networking. Military families use the new webcams to contact loved ones. GCCL was able to convert to digital reference resources and use reclaimed space from the reference book collection for extra computers. Programs to help patrons access the virtual reference collection were very successful. Database searches at GCCL increased from 756 in 2007 to a whopping 5,039 in 2009, a 566 percent rise. “We record our programs so we can download them to YouTube,” says Henderson. In Glen Carbon and as part of a GCCL partnership with an adult community day-care center in Collinsville, IL, the new camcorder is used to record senior memoirs. The technology upgrades also spurred such activities as “Wii Wednesdays” for seniors, “Gaming tournaments” for those with special needs, the senior memoir enterprise, and the Readers Theater, where children create and perform plays that are recorded and uploaded to YouTube.

Youth and reading

GCCL programs to keep youth coming include movies and gaming even after hours and numerous other services. GCCL makes it part of its mission to provide a social gathering place for adolescents as the town has no other equivalent spot for teens. “GCCL is a place where teens can come, be with their friends, just hang out,” says Henderson. GCCL's very active youth group, the Junior Friends of the Library, does volunteer outreach work and helped develop the technology grant. While GCCL works to maintain excellent relations with the local school district and creates both collections and service in support of the curriculum, Henderson also works with homeschooled youth. “We support homeschoolers without setting ourselves up as a bastion of homeschooling, because we work very hard to maintain good relationships with the public schools,” says Henderson. She also takes books and does booktalks at a local juvenile detention center under an American Library Association Great Stories Program grant. This partnership also has allowed GCCL to bring youth computer programming basics through Alice and Scratch software. “Young adults are having run-ins with their parents and their teachers, so they are going to have them with librarians, too. You have to decide if you are going to win the war or the battle, and I prefer to win the war. The war is getting them into the library and keeping them coming back,” says Henderson, a teacher for 14 years, speaking with passion about GCCL's mission. “I have wonderful connections with the teachers and school administrators because I worked closely with them. It is tremendously important. I have knowledge of curriculum, and I try to shape our collection to provide what students are going to need,” Henderson says. “It doesn't worry me, but technology and the young challenge me. I think they still have to be able to read. It goes back to brainpower. With technology, their brains are being trained for fast response, and those parts of the brain are going to be overdeveloped. Their cognitive processes, reading retention, reading comprehension, are not as strong.... They are a microwave generation. Everything is instantaneous. When you make a phone call, send a text or email, or participate in any social networking everything is instantaneous. We have to get them into the library and lure them away from that for a little while so that they can still see the value of reading,” says Henderson. “It is not necessarily back to print on paper. We have 'library to go,' downloadable books on MP3 players. We lend them, and many people have their own machines. It amazes me, but often I will listen to a book that I might not read.”

Outreach partners

Its long-term relationship with the Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce has given GCCL the opportunity to host a Business After Hours program and provide educational programs for local businesses. GCCL's youth services' partnership with schools on the Summer Reading Program, delivering materials to classrooms and hosting field trips, has helped draw teens. Of course, LCLS is a crucial GCCL partner. There is a constant flow of information and resources among GCCL, the system, and the other member libraries. The Library2Go site of downloadable audiobooks developed by GCCL and the Edwardsville Public Library is shared with the entire system.

The best library

“Glen Carbon seems to be doing everything right,” said one of the Best Small Library in America judges. “Glen Carbon has the most going on in every criterion,” said another. “I really tried to keep creativity, replication by other libraries, and innovation foremost. Glen Carbon got the most points,” said a third. GCCL director Anne Hughes participated in the Illinois State Library's leadership initiative “Synergy” a few years ago. “They asked us to dream big, to stand up and tell the group what big thing we would do next. I told them I was going to win this award. That was my dream,” she recalls. “Then I thought, 'Uh-oh, if I tell them that I'll have to do it!'” Congratulations, Anne!

About the Best Small Library in America

LJ's annual award, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was created in 2005 to encourage and showcase the exemplary work of libraries serving populations under 25,000. The winning library receives a $15,000 cash prize from the Gates Foundation, conference costs for two library representatives to attend the 2010 Public Library Association (PLA) meeting in Portland, OR, a gala reception at PLA, and more. The two finalist libraries receive conference costs for two library representatives to attend the 2010 PLA meeting and award celebration and more. For guidelines for the 2011 nomination, please contact Rebecca Miller at; 646-746-6725; or go to


LJ thanks the following library professionals who volunteered valuable time to help select this year's winner: Jill Nishi Deputy Director, U.S. Libraries Initiative, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Timothy Owens Consultant for Public Library Networking, Library Development Section, State Library of North Carolina; President, Association for Rural and Small Libraries Nancy Rosenwald Director, Union County Carnegie Library, SC, LJ Best Small Library in America 2009 Carol Sheffer Director, Round Lake Library, NY; Public Library Association Past President The panel also includes LJ staff: John N. Berry III, Francine Fialkoff, Josh Hadro, Rebecca Miller, & Norman Oder

Best Small Library in America 2010 Finalists

The Glen Carbon Centennial Library had good company among the more than 30 institutions nominated for the sixth annual Best Small Library in America Award. From tiny towns or vast counties, these facilities demonstrate the high standards and innovative service in libraries across the United States. Among the nominees, several feature the programs, tech savvy, and commitment to community that signify the Best Small Library in America. The finalists for the 2010 award are:

Library Journal, February 1, 2010: Baker County District Library, Baker City, ORBaker County Library District, Baker City, OR

Perry Stokes, Director With a bookmobile that travels over 600 miles a month, a main library, and five branches, this system in the high desert of northeastern Oregon reaches out to serve the 16,470 residents spread across a county larger than the state of Delaware. The residents respond by using the library like never before. The service they get goes beyond the norm, including, for example, 64 public access computers, a virtual reference library collection, and the checkout of high-tech equipment such as MP3 players, GPS units, and digital projectors. All this and much more is made possible by broad community support that has guaranteed stable funding, most recently with a 2003 bond that allowed new construction in response to community needs and a 2007 five-year local option levy that supplemented the library permanent tax rate.

Library Journal, February 1, 2010: Cross Plains Public Library, TXCross Plains Public Library, TX

Linda Burns, Director Called a “star of the show” by a supporter, this library serving a total population of 2,335 proves that status with a community touch that makes all the difference in the ability to deliver great service. Despite the region's already depressed economy, the library expanded in 2009, doubling its size with the addition of the Children's Discovery Center—an effort that relied on local donations for more than a quarter of the $98,543 tab beyond the annual local gifts that fuel the bulk of the library budget. A number of partnerships put the library at the table in community organizations, and a healthy roster of programs span all ages. The library is also central to providing access to the materials of local author Robert E. Howard, of Conan the Barbarian fame.—Rebecca Miller
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