The Cleveland Public Library’s service area covers nearly 100 square miles with a population of over 400,000 people, though its impact spreads much further. As the founding member of CLEVNET, one of the largest library consortiums in the world, the library lends critical support to 45 other library systems and provides service to 1 million customers across Northeast Ohio. In addition to housing a large quantity of the 12 million items that are available through CLEVNET the Main Library is a destination for researchers from across the region and the world.
While the Library has a significant regional influence, its focus remains on the Cleveland communities it has served for 150 years. The system is comprised of the downtown main campus and 27 branches across the city. Though these unique branches serve diverse communities they operate as one system with patrons able to walk into any library building and get the services they need. Cleveland residents already use the system in this way attending multiple branches to meet their needs, not just the one nearest their home.
The density of the Library’s branch system helps drive the ability to utilize multiple locations. There are few places in Cleveland that aren’t within a mile of a library and many patrons pass multiple locations daily. Growing from a system of Carnegie era community libraries these branches were anchors of walkable urban neighborhoods and most still are today. Unfortunately, the Library’s buildings were built for a different time and mode of service with only two new or substantially renovated buildings in the last twenty years. There is a clear need for system-wide upgrades to enable the library to provide the modern library service the city expects and deserves.
Cleveland Public Library has made a commitment to the city that, while re-imagining its buildings and service, it will strive to maintain the dense, accessible network of branches supporting its neighborhoods. This close-knit network is still critical to the city’s largely low-income population which relies heavily on public transit and walkability to access services institutions like the library provide. This means the library must seek out ways to extend a higher level of service efficiently and with a broad reach across the city.
The scale of the Cleveland Public Library system affords it the opportunity to create locations that provide unique experiences and resources that go beyond the typical library. While still branch libraries, these locations will serve as Regional Anchors and serve as destinations that provide services that support the entire city in addition to their immediate community. These locations may serve as venues for large civic scale events and the buildings themselves should be architectural gems of the library’s collection. The anchor branches will be second only to the Main Campus in the breadth and depth of service they can provide.