Denver Public Library’s Schlessman branch seems designed for customer convenience. Patrons can pick up their own holds and check out the items without staff assistance. Nine express computers mean there’s no wait if you want to spend up to 30 minutes quickly checking email or surfing the web. A five bin sorter frees staff time so there’s always someone available to answer questions.
And they’re not sit and point employees. On a recent visit, Julia and Dawn (who tells people she “likes to be bothered, so if you have any questions, please ask!” – my kind of librarian!) did their best to answer my many questions, taking me around the library to show me what I’d asked about.
Senior Librarian (at Denver Public (DPL) this title seems to be the equivalent of a branch manager) Jenny LaPerriere was also quite welcoming and helpful - after I was done with my first spate of questions she came back to make sure I was aware of a wonderful twelve panel installation by Denver native, Stephen Batura, that I definitely would have overlooked. High up and facing the slanted wall of windows in a sun lit reading area, The Lowry Trios are paintings based on old photos of the area.
Jenny is a bit of a legend among Colorado librarians as her facility was the first (that I’d heard of) to use the commercial concept of merchandising. Book store style displays and popular materials libraries are becoming more commonplace, but back in early 2002 when the Schlessman Family Branch opened as a “contemporary” library, advertising was a bit of a dirty word in the field, as it was so closely associated with for-profit concerns. At the time, I was at Douglas County Libraries, where the idea of marketing and carrying mainly hot items was so exciting it became the basis for our Lone Tree and Roxborough branches.
And Schlessman is awash with what patrons want. With a huge A/V section chock full of hit movies, chartbusting audios,
the latest CDs in music store shelving with genre groupings (and Rockin’ Staff Picks!), there’s something for everyone. Browsers are rewarded with bestselling books available despite gigantic holds lists.
All this attracts users in droves. This busy branch is in a neighborhood within walking distance for many, and the Lowry News conveniently lists all their upcoming programs. But it’s also used by loads of non residents attracted to the choices Schlessman’s format provides. Cars jockey for space in the parking lot and the 34 reservable adult computers were almost all occupied with many people taking advantage of the free wi-fi as well. They also have three study rooms available on a first come first served basis, and an expansive community room that can be reserved for $10/hour when it’s not being used for storytimes or programs.
Despite all this activity and that the building’s skewed steel walls are reminiscent of a cruise ship, Schlessman is not a huge location. They pack a lot in because they prioritize what the majority of patrons want. There are lots of programs, storytimes and classes – in January you can hear about herbal medicine, childhood obesity, dinosaurs, party appetizers and tax planning. Learn how to use e-materials at the Tech Petting Zoo or win a cherry pie in a Lincoln Log building contest.
So you don’t miss out on anything, a big screen TV by the entrance promotes Phone-a-story, volunteer opportunities and news as well as programs and services.
The Children’s Area has seven computers, all the books, movies and audios kids want most, and lots of booklists by age and grade and on topics like multicultural books, medal winners and 100 best loved picture books.
There’s a display of crockery hand painted by their favorite illustrators (Eric Carle’s caterpillar is on the bottom right) and comfy armchairs for weary parents.
The adjoining Youth Area has items for tweens and older with a large collection of manga and graphic novels as well as books on CD etc.
And since Schlessman is just one of twenty-four locations in the Denver Public Library system, K-12 students (and others) have access to a great array of databases to help them with their homework, as well as email reference and AskColorado 24/7 virtual reference.
In fact, DPL does a yeoman’s job satisfying the entire state’s needs. With no physical state library collection in CO, DPL is the go-to place for all obscure materials and ILL’s an enormous amount of items to other systems. It would be difficult if not impossible to maintain statewide 24/7 virtual reference without their contribution. Their Western History and Genealogy department is a godsend for anyone researching their family tree and its excellent Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library is unique in the mountain west. But the best part is that with the CO Library Card program, any CO resident can get a DPL card.
In fact, the seven level Central Library downtown can be a bit overwhelming, which may be why this friendly and easy to use branch is so successful.
There’s a two sided fireplace - a long stone ledge next to it can accommodate numerous chilled patrons.
At the back, the Bee Hive is another program area with a large screen where presenters can show PowerPoints and featured speakers from the Colorado Author Series hold court.
In keeping with the principle of satisfying patron needs, there are food and drink vending machines by the magazines and newspapers area.
And everywhere, materials are attractively displayed to encourage serendipitous finds.
Truly enticing, Schlessman reminds us that a lot of the best shopping is free.