Non-Traditional Library Collections: They’re for small libraries, too! by Lynn Blair, Director, Westhampton Public Library

2017 has been a busy year for the Westhampton Public Library. We wrote our new strategic plan to take us through the next five years and we are also participating in the Massachusetts Library System’s Word of Mouth Marketing (WOMM) Project. The project covers 18 months and involves 25 different libraries. Teams created their own campaigns to advertise using word of mouth marketing. Our marketing plan featured the idea of “Find it all at the Westhampton Public Library.” Libraries aren’t just a repository for books anymore, and we don’t want to be just that. We want to give our patrons exciting programs and interesting resources…a “Library of Things!”

Our “Library of Things” began with Aldrich Astronomical and their library telescope program. Aldrich provided us with a tabletop telescope that could be checked out by patrons. Aldrich was great in facilitating staff training and a reveal event for the telescope. At the beginning the telescope had a waitlist and is still now going out regularly to patrons.

We also got involved with Mount Holyoke College and their Passport to Chemistry program (presented by: Mount Holyoke College in collaboration with the Dreyfus Foundation & the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts). Mount Holyoke provided us with chemistry kits- ones for grades K-2 and 3-6 and refilling supplies. Each kit is a different experiment- from “kitchen chemistry” to “biochemistry.” It’s been wonderful watching our patrons and their children get excited over the kits, picking out the one they want to do next, and earning prizes along the way. Given the success of our first two ventures into non-traditional materials, our Friends of the Library group is funding a few more kits to add to the collection: two language learning, one birder, an outdoors kit, to name a few. We aim to debut them in January.

Non-traditional collections are becoming more common in libraries. I’d encourage any library no matter the size to look into the possibility of a non-traditional collection. Our small library in the hilltowns of Western MA (Westhampton, population 1,600) has responded with enthusiasm for the new introductions to our collection. Know that purchasing kits or other materials doesn’t have to be costly- the Mount Holyoke program is free and there may be similar ventures in your own community to get involved in.

To get your collection started, take a look at your community- what are their interests, their needs, and hobbies? We have many birders in Westhampton, so a birding kit complete with guide and binoculars seemed like a natural choice. Ask your patrons- they’ll tell you what they want! If you get one idea, others grow from there. Our birding kit idea came to be and it seemed natural to also have an outdoors kit (with trail maps, pedometer, and geocaching information) for all of the hikers and geocache-ers in town.

Additionally, ask your staff and volunteers their thoughts. The kits can be time consuming- from signing paperwork for the telescope (a waiver adults need to sign to check it out) to checking the contents of kits before checking in and out (the chemistry kits have lots of moving parts, some that need to be replaced or refilled). See how staff and volunteers feel about these additional projects and make sure they’re comfortable with the processes before having them available for checkout. Your circulation staff will appreciate making the check-in/out process as painless as possible. Be creative, have fun, and go from there. I’m happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Please contact me at

Do you have feedback, advice, or questions about this post? Please comment below!

Want to see more fantastic collections? Read our other Library of Things Blog posts, or check out our Library of Things LibGuide!


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