Non-Traditional Circulating Materials in Public Libraries

Rachel Cohn will lead the first half of the session on Wednesday, 17 March 2021.

and we'll have a guest join us for the second half

Seed libraries, tech lending, home repair goods, smashing consumerism, and more!

What can expanding library services do for a community, how does one implement that, and what values does it encourage? Let’s explore…


In thinking about expanding what public libraries circulate, we think about the purpose of the library, what it offers the community, how libraries can meet changing needs, and what practical benefits and challenges come with such servicing of and anticipating changing needs.

Let’s assume that each case is individual and dependent on a variety of factors — of course there’s that "it depends" part of every discussion and possibility that raise questions that lead to more questions. While valuable, Rachel thinks that nevertheless we can come to some general conclusions and overarching questions regarding non-traditional circulating materials in public libraries.

Discussion Questions to Ponder for Class:

The following reading is a marvelous overview that addresses most of what we’ll be discussing in class this week. I’d recommend starting here:

  1. Robert Raymond, Public libraries are expanding the sharing economy by adding Libraries of Things to their catalogs


What is a traditional item? What is a non-traditional item? Check out these links to read some examples of non-traditional items, and choose one (either from these sources or from the endless bounds of your own imagination!!) to focus on in more depth:

For the forum post, in addition to expounding on anything that catches your eye, please write about one example of a non-traditional circulating material and what challenges and benefits it would have in a particular community. You can pick a library you love or make one up.


Keep these questions in mind as you ponder the material for this week. We’ll start by discussing the above materials (both the readings and the actual non-traditional materials described therein). Rachel will then talk through a prepared slideshow with various examples, and then we’ll go into the following questions and any further wonderings and intriguing thoughts you have.

  • How do circulation and collection development policies change for non-traditional materials?
  • How does one understand what is needed in the community?
  • How does one gather feedback in the community?
  • How does this play into budgeting and funding?
  • How does this reflect the value system of the library and librarians and, perhaps, the community? Any thoughts on capitalism or consumerism or materialism or sharing, anyone?
  • How do these evolving libraries of things and unique catalog items compare to the origins of a public library? What does it mean as far as the historic and modern purposes of a library go? Does that matter? Does any of this matter? Does anything matter?


  1. circulation is cool
  2. circulation has lots of meaning and challenges
  3. read the links
  4. post a forum post about a non-traditional circulating item and any other thoughts
  5. post a forum post about a non-traditional circulating item and any other thoughts
  6. we’ll talk about all this stuff and look at further examples and implementations
  7. let the thoughts simmer, and look forward to a beautiful discussion =)

Guest speaker

Jason richmond

We will be joined by Jason Richmond, SILS MSLS 2013, the technology librarian at the Orange County Public Library in Hillsborough, NC

Jason's path from the Community Workshop Series to his current post is an interesting one and will complement quite nicely with the topic of the day.


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