It’s been more than a year since the Flathead County Library System rebranded as ImagineIF Libraries, and library officials consider the new marketing and program-heavy style a success.
“It’s been a huge success,” ImagineIF director Kim Crowley said. “The whole mood has changed here; it is more alive, it’s a lot more fun.”
On Jan. 13, 2014, the county library system, which includes libraries in Kalispell, Columbia Falls, Bigfork, and Marion, rebranded as ImagineIF Libraries, putting a focus on community-building endeavors and changing up some of the stale tropes of libraries, such as making a library a place to have boisterous fun, instead of a place one is punished for being too noisy.
While the mood may have changed, there are also quantifiable data to back up Crowley’s assertion of success. In the calendar year of 2013, 13,688 people participated in library programs in all branches. After the rebranding in 2014, that number jumped to 22,432 people, representing a roughly 42 percent increase.
“Our program attendance is up 47 percent for the first six months of this fiscal year, from last July to January,” Crowley said.
There were 579 programs run in 2014, compared to 446 in 2013.
Circulation numbers – meaning the numbers tracking the books and other media people are borrowing from the libraries – are staying relatively flat, which Crowley said was more of a positive indicator than a negative, since many libraries are seeing dwindling circulations.
There was a 1 percent increase in circulation in calendar year 2014 over 2013, with 574,233 items borrowed last year versus the 569,533 in 2013.
Digital content has increased by 23 percent from 2013 to 2014, and the number of people accessing the libraries’ wifi connections increased by 27 percent as well. The number of people using the libraries’ computers, however, decreased by 4 percent, likely due to more people bringing in their own Internet-capable devices, Crowley said.
The rebranding has also sparked a new round of donations from new sources, Crowley said. The response to the library’s annual donation appeal letter, sent out in December, garnered 36 new donors for a total of $19,225, and returning donors increased their financial gifts by $3,850.
But many of the successes of the rebranding aren’t quantifiable, Crowley said.
“Mostly, the programs are really what show a lot more people coming to the library. A lot of people talking about the library in a positive way,” she said. “And staff morale is really high.”
Part of the staff boost comes from the new policy that there are no more late fees at ImagineIF libraries, which started with the rebranding. It’s been working well, Crowley said, though it was a bit of a new concept for many library users.
“It was a little confusing at the beginning because people thought, ‘Oh, I never have to return my books,'” she said. “People really like it and staff really like it because they’re having positive interactions with customers.”
Library staff also has more time to perform their assigned tasks because they aren’t dealing with angry or confused customers, or trying to explain where a 20-cent charge came from.
In a recent library application for a marketing award, one staff member summed it up thusly: “It’s been a complete 180 degrees from when I started here 10 years ago, from a library with books to a library that is alive, hopping, changing, and vibrant.”
The Kalispell library will host the sixth annual fundraiser, Loud at the Library, on March 19. Tickets are available at the business office at the Kalispell location or by calling 758-5821. Last year, the fundraiser included 300 attendees and raised more than $17,000 for the ImagineIF Library Foundation.