There’s little mystery to how Julianne Rist wound up working for Jefferson County Public Library, in her native state of Colorado.
“I came from a family of readers, so it was really easy to get a trip to the library and a stack of books,” says Rist, who favored the enigmatic adventures of Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and their crime-solving kin. “It was my first place of freedom to choose what I wanted. It didn’t matter what you read, if you were reading something. It was a great way to grow up.”
As Director of Public Services at Jefferson County Public Library, Rist helps ensure that 585,000 residents, living just west of Denver in Colorado’s most swiftly aging county, have access to the programs and materials they want and need. The system boasts 10 branches distributed across 770 square miles, encompassing cities, mountains, and state parks; a bookmobile; and a homebound service, or in-person book delivery, for patrons who can’t leave the house.
Being a librarian is “a profession where you can do something different every day,” says Rist, who works out of the administrative office in Lakewood but visits most branches bimonthly, “where you truly see the impact you make in people’s lives.”
For JCPL, gathering community input is an essential element of positively impacting patrons’ lives. Staff worked closely with voters in 2015 to pass a one-mill levy, enabling expansion of branches’ operating hours and mindful rehabilitation of facilities deemed in need of repair, like the Columbine Library in Littleton.
“Columbine was our first location where we truly remodeled,” Rist says of the 30,000 square foot facility, which reopened to the public in October 2017. “We had community meetings to ask questions—what do you like about the existing building, what don’t you like about the existing building?—and heard very loud and clear about the pain points in the community, things they wanted fixed, and things they didn’t want touched.”
The latter included a bank of windows, overlooking a reservoir and mountain range, that let in a soft stream of natural night. JCPL decided to enhance this beloved feature with an optimized seating area—and to complement their beautiful facility with a new opening-day collection from Baker & Taylor, a Charlotte, North Carolina–based distributor of books and entertainment.
“We did a modified opening-day collection at Columbine because it was a remodel of an existing building,” Rist says. “We ordered a lot of newer titles and nice-looking items,” including some of Baker & Taylor’s curated collections, featuring high-circulating items from areas of perennial interest, like gardening, cooking, and crafts for adults and children.
“What we did with our remodel is create a special place that is a merchandising section for those materials,” she says. “They’re cataloged slightly differently—you can’t place holds on them—but other than that, you check them out like any other material. That ‘Top Pick’ collection, for both adults and children, was ordered brand-new from Baker & Taylor.”
The new materials joined JCPL’s popular 1 million–item collection, contributing to a total circulation of 7.9 million last year. Because JCPL opts for Baker & Taylor’s value-added preprocessing service, those materials arrived “stickered, stamped, and shelf-ready,” Rist says.
“It’s a better use of taxpayers’ dollars,” she says, “and it increases access to the collection.” Furthermore, she adds, “it frees up our staff for more important things than putting stickers on books. It gives them the ability to actually make qualified decisions on what we purchase, look at what people are using, and track trends in our use.”
That also leaves more time for face-to-face interactions with patrons, which leads to more feedback and, ultimately, more impact.
“One of the things I like most about working at Jefferson County is we want to know what our community needs before we decide to provide a service,” says Rist, who prioritizes keeping costs low and processes streamlined to continue to meet the community’s needs with fewer resources. “If we can partner with somebody [like Baker & Taylor] who already has the services we need, how can we make them available conveniently for our residents in a way that makes sense?
“More money will not necessarily solve your problems” as a library system, she points out. “We want to be good stewards of the money that our community has invested in us, to ensure we’re meeting their expectations, and that we are also looking at the long-term [questions]—where do we want to go? What do we want to be? What problems do we want to fix?—to make sure that we’re reflecting all of Jefferson County.”
Megan Labrise is a staff writer and co-host of the Fully Booked podcast. The photo above of the window wall at Jefferson County Public Library is by Sam Koerbel.