Reimagining the oldest public library in Memphis
The Little Bird team partnered with the Cossitt to help build upon its existing efforts & identify new areas for growth & community building while showcasing our human-centered design process & the results made possible by this fast-paced, intensive strategy.
The Cossitt library TODAY
Downtown’s Cossitt Library is one of the smallest branches in the current library system, & has many important assets.
- A passionate, dedicated, & vision-driven branch manager leading this grassroots effort.
- The Cossitt Crew, a small but dedicated alliance of staff, users, & neighborhood residents helping to care for the library.
- Recent programming including spoken word & a children’s day attracting new audiences.
- A vast expanse of open, programmable space on the vacant second floor.
- Some of the most stunning views the city has to offer.Some of the most stunning views the city has to offer.
The Cossitt also faces significant challenges, such as:
- Relatively low patronage as compared to other branches.
- A general lack of awareness outside of direct stakeholders.
- An inoperable elevator that renders the second floor unusable.
- A fairly small overall collection & only a handful of books for young people.
- Disinvestment from the city & a primary user group with few resources.
- The promenade, while beautiful & well maintained, is not visible from the street & most people are unaware it’s open to the public.
- A noticeable lack of curb appeal including:
- A neglected bus stop that serves as a source of catcalling and harassment for passersby.
- A below street level entrance that seems both uninviting and unsafe.
- A host of more minor issues like missing and hard-to-read signage and overgrown trees.
We began by immersing ourselves in the space, working directly from the Cossitt’s auditorium, for what would be a demanding but rewarding one-week engagement. We identified key stakeholders and included via interviews, intercepts, and informal conversations the perspectives of staff and library officials, current daily and drop-in users, law students and law school employees, downtown residents using the Cossitt’s outdoor spaces, and current non-users. We also reached out to library officials, community members, users, and local schools for insights and participation in prototyping sessions.
We focused our recommendations on better serving several of these key stakeholder groups through programmatic and physical improvements to the entrance and back promenade experiences, the existing first floor, and the unused second floor.
After our week long deep dive, we left the Cossitt Library with the following:
1. Short, medium, & long-term programming and space recommendations, which included ideas for:
- After-hours events for professionals like a lecture series or DIY workshops
- Children’s afterschool & summer programming
- Welcoming entrance experience with a terraced walkway, signage & messaging
- A jobs & social services resource center
2. A new dedicated children’s space prototype complete with teen & young kid’s reading areas, homework & study space, arts & crafts area, interactive felt art wall, performance space, & game area.
3. Recommendations for partners & funding to address larger needs (e.g., the much needed new elevator).
Finally, the call for donations to furnish the children’s area and the prototyping feedback sessions provided an opportunity for new connections and potential new partners within the library system and community at large, while contributing to the burgeoning enthusiasm for our city’s most historic library.
Ultimately, the project showed that not only can a human-centered design process work in a short, focused engagement, it can include stakeholders as active participants and uncover a wide berth of knowledge, beliefs, assets, challenges, and solutions. It also showed that a tangible, adaptable prototype - in this case, the children’s area - that takes little investment and risk can serve as an immediate asset, while allowing the library team to learn what will work best with a larger future investment.