Memphis Public Libraries use Readbox to build awareness

A  guerilla marketing campaign popping up around town is building awareness of Memphis Public Libraries' changing role in the community and its growing range of free programs. 

To promote the library’s services, MPL has launched a Readbox structure which is designed to mimic a Redbox movie rental station. Designed by DCA, the Readbox will move to different locations around Memphis. 

“Libraries have changed so much that we needed a really bold strategy to communicate the value of something that was previously so overwhelming that is was hard for us to explain,” said Kennon McCloy, Memphis Public Libraries executive director. “The Readbox is a conversation starter and a way for us to be more playful.”

In addition to books, the MPL system offers more than 6,000 programs that cover topics including economic development, job and career prep, STEAM activities, robotics, gaming, coding, music recording, genealogy, legal services, personal finance and much more. 

DiscoverREAD at Crenshaw Library from High Ground News on Vimeo.

“There’s something for everyone. It’s not a shushing library anymore,” said McCloy. “We’re doing a lot of things that are really surprising and fun, and we now have double the program attendance that we had ten years ago. It’s really about trying to connect with people where they are and to eliminate barriers to access.”


More than 100,000 people attend the programs each year, and a newly designed website is helping them to more easily find the programming they seek.

So far, the Readbox, which was built by local craftsman and carpenter Caleb Sweazy, has appeared at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, Crosstown Concourse, and in front of a Walgreens on Getwell Road next to an actual Redbox. It will continue to show up in surprising locations around town in the future.

“Readbox is for us a creative way that we’re attempting to get people’s interest so we can use it to share information about the library,” said DCA Principal Doug Carpenter. “It has been wildly popular," he added.

A photo posted on MPL's Facebook has now reached more than 260,000 people.

“The Readbox is representative of the Memphis Public Libraries,” said Carpenter. “They have more than books. They have movies, librarians with expertise, free Wi-Fi, job counseling, and a wealth of resources. And there are 18 different locations.”

The campaign is helping to get the word out about a variety of exciting things happening with the library system.

Related: "Memphis Public Libraries 'start here' by upgrading neighborhood branches"

“The goal is to spark a passion for lifelong learning,” said McCloy. “A lot of people don’t have the best experience in school, and we can connect with people in ways that traditional institutions cannot. The library is really the jumping off point for anything you could ever dream of or things you have never even considered would be possible.”

MPL’s Discover READ early childhood literacy centers focus on touching, talking, reading, playing and singing for kids from infancy to age five.

“We’re busy raising money privately through the Memphis Library Foundation for more Discover READ centers,” said McCloy. “We have the money for nine right now.”

While digital e-books are rapidly gaining popularity in recent years (the library has grown its number of available titles to more than 200,000), traditional books are still doing quite well.

“We have more than two million hardback or paperback items,” said McCloy.

More exciting things are on the horizon for MPL. Construction will get underway soon on a new 15,000-square-foot library in Raleigh at the site of the former Raleigh Springs Mall. It should be open by next summer and will feature the library system’s only Family Lab. Plans are also underway to replace Frayser's library branch.

“We’re really focused on North and South Memphis,” said McCloy. “There’s just a whole lot of intentionality around making sure that this is a world-class facility and represents the future of libraries.”

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Read more articles by Michael Waddell.

Michael Waddell is a native Memphian who returned to Memphis several years ago after working for nearly a decade in San Diego and St. Petersburg, Fla., as a writer, editor and graphic designer. His work over the past few years has been featured in The Memphis Daily News, Memphis Bioworks Magazine, Memphis Crossroads, the New York Daily News and the New York Post. Contact Michael.