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St. Louis County Library to make waiting in line more enjoyable

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2013 - Eric Button is no stranger to implementing new programs at St. Louis County Library. In 2011 Button, assistant director of branch services, helped the county library start “floating” collections:  Books recirculate at the library branch where they were returned regardless of where they were checked out. The concept helped the library manage an increased circulation in the midst of reductions in staff numbers. Button was recognized on Google's Government Transformers website for his effort.

Now Button has a new initiative: bringing the library into the community.

Last week, St. Louis County Library launched Recycled Reads, a program that takes surplus library materials to set up book displays at places throughout the county where people spend time waiting in lines. Individuals can borrow books from the display for as long as they wish: for their wait in line or for the few weeks it takes to finish reading a book. No library cards are needed to borrow. No fines or due dates are administered. The program simply asks that users to return items to the original locale.

Button was inspired when he visited the King County Library System outside of Seattle, Wash., which has a similar outreach program. 

"We saw these other libraries with programs that take materials into the community," Button said when asked about the inspiration for Recycled Reads, "into the gathering places where people have time on their hands and need to be occupied."

Button told library branch managers the types of places where he wanted displays: emergency rooms, coffee shops, hair salons, youth centers, auto shops, anywhere where people wait. The branch managers went into their communities, talked with businesses and organizations and came back with 24 north county locations, 16 south county locations, 15 west county locations, and two central county locations as initial partners.

"Because of the diversity of the sites, we can touch a lot of different people. There's really not one general audience; this a broad, sweeping initiative." 

The displays will be supplied with surplus library materials that have been "weeded" from circulation because of overstock, popularity flux, or change in condition. The program is seen as a way to meaningfully extend the lives of the material by circulating them back into the community. Weeded material ordinarily would be sold or recycled.

According to Button, use of the displays will be monitored by the library and feedback will be solicited from the business owners and community members to determine how often they should be resupplied. The success of the program will be measured by how many items are taken out. He acknowledged that materials being permanently lost or stolen is a "possibility,"

Initial feedback has been positive and has come from a surprising source. "We expected to hear from patrons but we have heard reports from a number of staff [at the Recycled Reads locations] who were very excited."

Already -- the public announcement was made on Aug. 29 -- more companies have contacted the library about becoming partners than it is currently able handle. Still, according to Button, the launch of the program could be viewed as a "trial period."

"If it goes the way we believe, it will we hope to expand."

To learn more about the Recycled Reads program, including a complete list of program sites, or to inquire about becoming a new Recycled Reads site, visit its website or call 314-994-3300. 

Bram Sable-Smith is a Beacon intern.

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