CORNELIUS – Staff at Charlotte Mecklenburg libraries didn’t have to go all the way to Sochi to earn the bronze, silver and gold.

Recently, both the Davidson and Cornelius libraries earned the bronze certification through the system-wide Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's WorkSmart initiative. While all 20 branches met the goal by the end of December, Cornelius was the first neighborhood branch to receive the distinction.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library’s Associate Director of Access and Organization Initiatives Linda Raymond said the framework for WorkSmart is for libraries to identify and implement best practices or innovations to improve inefficiencies. Branches that met and sustained goals received a plaque.

Ellen Giduz, who manages both the Cornelius and Davidson branches, said they have been able to improve individual locations, plus gotten ideas from other libraries.

“The results have been good and have shown best practices for what to do,” she said. “It holds us very accountable. When you get busy, sometimes things slide, but this keeps us from sliding.”

A main Cornelius goal was to improve staff’s ability to answer questions, such as library information, reference queries, book recommendations and technology issues. 

Giduz said staff kept track of questions they were asked and brainstormed some of their own, which were then distributed for staff to resolve.

Davidson workers made a better effort to maintain a reasonable number of books on the shelves and made needed replacements. Because residents can return items at any of the branches, Giduz said people return more than they check out at the Davidson Library, so they sometimes have too many books. The staff worked to make sure the shelves stayed neat and that they had a steady collection.

For a collaborative effort, staff at both the Davidson and Cornelius libraries spent a day in the others’ shoes. Each was tasked at working at the other branch to be familiar with structure and logistics and get ideas for improvements.

Davidson staff incorporated a new way of arranging magazines and Cornelius emulated Davidson’s idea of dating books on the book sale to keep better track.

Now staff is interchangeable between the branches in case of an emergency where they need to fill in.

“Everyone has found it beneficial,” Giduz said of the WorkSmart initiative. “It’s extra stuff we wouldn’t normally have to do, but we have gotten better in reference, and we are learning the tricks of the trade.”

The next step is for branches to find new goals and improvements to apply for the silver and then gold distinctions.

“The biggest thing and most important thing so far is the pride and the feeling of accomplishment that the branches have during this project,” Raymond said. “They work as a team to make it happen. It’s a way to make a difference in how they are doing their job. Before there was no way to see what others did and benefit from what they learned. With this, their efforts are acknowledged.”

In addition to the certifications, the North Carolina Library Association named Cornelius Children’s Specialist George Peterson one of the Paraprofessionals of the Year last fall.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Library also gave the Directors Service Excellence Award to Peterson and Angela Arnold for their work with second-graders from Woodlawn School.

Both said it was unexpected, but they were grateful for the award and love working with the kids.