Ingram Blog

Innovative Library Programs & Collections

Computer software skills, book discussion groups, career development, writer’s workshops and more. A recent Pew research report found that only 34% of library programming is for adults, and yet most of the US population is age 45+, and the fastest growing demographic is over 85! How well is your library serving the adults in your community?

Welcome to Two Librarians and A Microphone , a library podcast by Ingram Library Services. Join Ingram's Collection Development Team as they explore trending topics, discuss industry news, and share their expertise on how to build the perfect collection for your community.

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If you haven't already, make sure to check out last week's podcast on Escapism: Reading To Relax and Recharge.



Hello. Thank you for joining me in the third installment of our Fall series of podcasts discussing issues important to public librarians as we continue to try to serve our communities in a world with rapidly shifting needs and circumstances. I’m Becky Walton, a Collection Development Librarian here at Ingram. I’m joined today by Shannan Rosa, who is also a Collection Development Librarian for Ingram Library Services.

One aspect of librarianship that I love is creativity. So many librarians that I know are good at taking very limited resources and turning them into something amazing, whether it be a puppet show or seminar. And today, we’d like to talk about innovative library programs and how librarians are educating, inspiring, and amazing the communities they serve.

One of the first programs that came to mind when we started working on this podcast was the Pokemon GO sensation. When that game was all the rage, quick-thinking libraries found ways to use it to their advantage to attract patrons of all ages. Programs and events were staged to embrace the energy and enthusiasm for the game, helping customers “catch ‘em all”! Libraries located near Poke Stops placed lures to attract Pokemon… and, of course, customers!


At the Nashville Public Library right here in Tennessee, their Studio NPL allows teens to use technology to be content creators, producing films, photographs, music, podcasts, robotics, and more. Who knows how many future successful singers and songwriters are getting their start right here in Middle Tennessee?!

In Washington state, the King County Library System started the Older Adult – Inspire, Engage, Connect! initiative in response to the growing number of retired people who weren’t yet ready for the quiet life in a rocking chair on the porch! In a partnership with AARP, they created two programs – Life Reimagined and Fraud Watch – as well as telephone town hall that delivered Social Security and Medicare information over the phone.

Chicago Public Library has found that the key to some patrons’ hearts is…! They have created a Books + Beer event at a local Brewery during happy hour, a trivia night, and a party called “night in the stacks”. What’s different is that these events are fundraisers, organized by the Chicago Public Library Foundation which was created to support innovative library programs, acquisition of technology, and development of collections. They’ve raised $70+ million since 1986, and raised $6 million for library programs just in 2015. The money they raise allows them to support patron interests in some unusual ways, such as offering fishing poles available for check out.


San Francisco Public Library’s Biblio Bistro is a mobile, librarian-staffed cooking cart that gives classes in healthy eating using fresh ingredients and basic equipment. They want to show their communities that it is possible to eat nutritious food on a limited budget. And on the other side of the country, Queens Library started offering on-site testing for New York’s online high school equivalency test. They even hold graduation ceremonies!

The National Geographic Enduring Voices Project lists Oklahoma as one of the 23 hotspots for losing native languages worldwide, so the Tulsa City-County Library developed a new initiative, taking a clever approach to the problem. The library convinced Mango Languages and the Cherokee Nation to partner to add Cherokee to the vendor’s offerings. Now, users at over 2,000 public library systems nationwide can benefit from this new content! In fact, it was accessed by users at over 500 libraries nationwide in only the first two months.


The New Orleans Public Library partnered with the YMCA to launch YES: YMCA Educational Services, which offers high school diploma, resume writing, workplace literacy, and computer classes to adults who can’t read.

Sewickley, PA PL fundraiser entailed auctioning off a day with a library staff member, to shadow them during their work. Sometimes people find out I’m a librarian and say how lucky I am that I get to read books all day! But as we know very well, a day in the life of a public librarian is a far cry from that, and the diversity of the tasks performed is likely a big surprise to the shadowers!


Hillsborough County, FL has a program to encourage learning experiences beyond the library. Patrons can check out a Discovery Pass to any of 10 different local participating organizations, including museums, theaters, and even the Big Cat Rescue facility! I was lucky enough to visit Big Cat Rescue a few months ago and I learned so much about current legislation and the ongoing debate about big cat ownership in our country.

Many libraries feature programs that are ideal for adults and children or teens to attend together. Ann Arbor Public Library features a K-adult Chesstastic program, a 6-adult Apple Pie Sugar Scrub making event, a 9-adult Drawing program, a 6-adult Knitting class and more. What a wonderful way for a parent or caregiver and child to spend time together! We’re betting that some people on both ends of the age spectrum will be inspired by each other! While we’re on the topic of innovation, we should note that Ann Arbor has a collection called, “Unusual Stuff to Borrow”, and it features everything from Art Tools to Telescopes.

Unusual items that libraries lend practically beg for an accompanying program, and are a great way to bring together people with similar interests and hobbies.


It’s really astonishing to consider the number of interesting and useful items that libraries have available for loan. The Lopez Island Library in Washington has a collection of musical instruments that their website says includes “guitars, violins, ukuleles, recorders, electronic keyboards, a cello, a banjo and other instruments such as the French Horn and Flugelhorn.” The Oakland, California public library has over 5000 tools for home improvement and landscaping. And in Bolivar County, Mississippi, library patrons can check out Santa suits.

There’s a whole movement called “Library of Things” that’s been building for the last few years. A Library of Things includes a wide variety of items that people might need only once in a while and might not be cost-effective for an individual to buy or would take up space in their house. This phenomenon is especially popular in the UK and Europe. Some of the things that UK libraries lend out include suitcases, neckties, camping equipment, and more.


There’s a Library of Things at Hillsboro, Oregon Public Library organized into nine different categories, including Arts and Crafts, Bakeware, Board Games, Events and Parties, Home Equipment, Instruments, Kitchenware, Recreational Kits, and Science and Technology. Their patrons must have excellent parties, because the list of items available to check out includes a karaoke machine, a bubble machine, a chocolate fountain, a beach tent, a badminton set, and 78 different cake pans!

Patrons of the Northern Onondaga Public Library in New York can check out a plot of land to grow their own vegetables for a season. It’s called the LibraryFarm project.


These innovative new collections really fit with the growing trend of the sharing economy, where people now value access to things they need over ownership of them. That means that rather than buying everything, we’re seeing more and more lending, leasing, and swapping of all kinds of things.

And it’s easy to see how libraries’ traditional collections and innovative programs can complement these resources for patrons who are using these less traditional resources. In addition to the items they’re lending, libraries can provide books, CDs, DVDs, and programming on home improvement, cooking, decorating, gardening, learning to play music. The possibilities really are endless.


Did you know there are libraries that circulate dogs? Therapy dogs are available for checkout to the stressed-out students at Harvard, Yale and Emory Universities.

And in some libraries, you can even check out a human. The Human Library originated in Denmark in 2000 as part of anti-violence initiatives. The idea was that everybody has some kind of prejudice, but if we can sit down and talk with somebody who is different from ourselves, we can hear their story, understand their point of view, relate to each other from our common humanity. Library patrons can check out “books,” volunteers who agree to set a time to talk candidly and answer anything, even the most difficult questions in a one-on-one conversation. The “books” available for checkout might include a homeless person, a Muslim, a refugee, an unemployed person, a young single mother, an abuse survivor, a soldier with PTSD, any of a wide cross-section of people. And the patrons get an opportunity to find out what it’s like to be them, and challenge long-held assumptions. It can be a life-altering experience.

The Human Library project has spread to other countries, including the US, and many libraries sponsor events, such as those in Sedona, Arizona; Durham, North Carolina; San Antonio, and others.

There are some great books on the market that can inspire you with programming ideas. We’ll mention just a few now; you don’t have to worry about writing them down… they can be found on ipage under Browse, High Interest Categories, Podcast Resources.

A Year of Programs for Millennials and More was described by a Library Journal reviewer as a gem of a resource for public librarians with budget and staff limitations. Written by three public librarians, this handbook offers 50 program ideas for customers ranging in the ages of their late teens through their forties.

VOYA called this next book the first resource librarians should turn to when starting a makerspace. Creating Makers: How to Start a Learning Revolution at Your Library by Megan Egbert encourages the development of a maker mentality in every community and can help librarians get approval to go forward with a makerspace.


And once that makerspace becomes a reality, there are resources to help you keep it going. For example, The Big Book of Makerspace Projects by Colleen and Aaron Graves offers ideas for kids from upper elementary school age through high school. For a younger set of customers, Maker Literacy by Lynn Pawloski and Cindy Wall has activities for kids starting from preschooler through middle grade.

Thank you for joining us as we looked at so many exciting and innovative library programs that are going on around us!

What innovative programs has your library successfully implemented? We’d love to hear from you! Tweet your stories to us @IngramContent using #thelibrarylife.