Based on profession and predilection, you’d never guess Andrew Chanse’s love of reading bloomed later in life. The executive director of Spokane Public Library was all comic books until college, when a triumvirate of gateway authors—Vonnegut, Burroughs, and Robbins—led to an abiding affection for 1970s and ’80s lyric narrative poetry.
“I love James Wright,” Chanse says of the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet, widely recognized for his experimental language and style. “In fact, I have a lithograph in my office, a letterpress of two of his poems. His sense of a line was amazing.”
When it comes to experimentation, Chanse’s sensibility clearly aligns with Wright’s.
Chanse leads an innovative team of librarians rising to meet the needs of a swiftly changing riverside city in eastern Washington state—one of 2018’s “Cities on the Rise,” according to National Geographic Traveler magazine. Serving 220,000 potential patrons, Spokane Public Library has burgeoned into a nimble six-branch system that excels in creative problem-solving.
“The way we look at things here is, What’s the barrier around information or learning?” says Chanse, who relocated to Spokane from Arizona in 2013. “How can we overcome that? What can we provide?...For the business community, for example, it’s the information, the data, that isn’t at the hands or means of individual business owners.”
In 2016, Spokane became the second public library system in the nation to offer free access to a Bloomberg terminal, providing real-time financial market data to local business owners. (New York Public Library was the first.) It’s located in the Level Up co-working space, a modern meeting place for the business community, conceived of by business reference librarian Mark Pond, outfitted with custom furniture built in-house.
Their latest initiative, the West Central kiosk, is a 24-7 vending machine that allows patrons in an underserved neighborhood to borrow and return library books with the swipe of a card. It’s the first of its kind in the state.
“It was the only community center where we didn’t have library services,” Chanse says, “so we felt it was a great way to offer something in the West Central neighborhood and use it as a pilot program.”
The barriers to realizing big dreams don’t include a lack of inspiration or enthusiasm in Spokane Public Library’s case. However, there is definitely a premium on employees’ time, which is a major component of bringing creative community outreach projects to fruition, Chanse says.
That’s among the reasons they’ve chosen to partner with Baker & Taylor, a Charlotte-based distributor of books and entertainment.
Last year, Baker & Taylor’s Customized Library Services ensured the materials Spokane Public Library wanted for their collection arrived stickered, stamped, and shelf-ready. The items were selected using Baker & Taylor’s carts as purchasing guides, which greatly reduced curation efforts. They recently subscribed to Collection HQ, a suite of powerful collection management tools designed to save systems even more time.
Though collection curation will always be a priority, Chanse notes, “instead of focusing so much on the collection, we’re able to focus on multicultural programs in the city, for example, that have been very well-received. We’ll do Hispanic-American Heritage Month, Native American heritage, and African-American history programs; outreach to a children’s hospital, bringing them storytime; we can offer music lessons for free at the library. We’re connecting with groups that we’ve never connected with before.”
He estimates that engaging Baker & Taylor’s services helped save two full-time positions last year, leaving staff with more time to promote library engagement. In that time, the number of households in Spokane with a library card went up by 38 percent; the number of active library card holders climbed 61 percent; and program attendance increased by more than 85 percent.
“We’re no longer waiting behind a desk,” he says. “Now we’re able to utilize creativity and the passions of our staff, as well as the community, to create something awesome.”
The impressive increase in program attendance is due in no small part to the very awesome-sounding Lilac City Live!, Spokane’s first late-night talk show, hosted in the newly renovated auditorium that shares a floor with the Level Up co-working space. Hosted by two comedians, the monthly event features Spokane’s movers and shakers, artists, and a live band, and it routinely draws an audience of more than 250 people.
“It’s goofy, it’s fun, and we serve beer and wine,” Chance says, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “And it’s hitting a crowd that we, libraries in general, have a hard time attracting, which is the 21-to-under-40 crowd. People can’t believe it—this is happening at my library?! They walk out saying, I can’t believe all the cool things Spokane has.”
Megan Labrise is a staff writer and co-host of the Fully Booked podcast. The West Central kiosk, seen above, is a 24-7 vending machine that allows patrons to borrow and return library books with the swipe of a card. Photo courtesy of Spokane Public Library.