Circulating Unusual Items

Tuesday, 2/7/2017
  • 11:00 AM (Eastern)
  • 10:00 AM (Central)
  • 9:00 AM (Mountain)
  • 8:00 AM (Pacific)

There is a growing trend of adding “unusual items” to libraries’ circulating collections. Circulating cake pans, post- hole diggers, ukuleles, soil testers, bread machines and more is exciting and impactful, but challenging. This talk introduces and contextualizes the trend, discusses best practices, addresses common questions, and suggests a plan for adding unusual items to your own library.

One thing that makes unusual items so appealing is that they are chosen by specific libraries based on the needs and interests of that specific library's specific community. In the presenter's library, ukuleles and soil testers do very well, but cake pans do poorly. In city libraries, kitchen equipment does better than at the presenter's suburban library because his patrons live in houses with more storage space than city patrons with smaller apartments. In a library with a large immigrant population, electronic translators might be successful. In a library with a low income population, WiFi hotspots might be successful.

This webinar is relevant to the membership of ASCLA because they work with specific populations with specific needs. By experiencing this webinar, they will be able to take what they learn and apply it to their populations, allowing them to serve their populations more fully and in new ways.


After participation in this webinar, you will be able to:

  • Know the history of unusual items in libraries (libraries have circulated unusual items for over 100 years).
  • Understand the acquisition cycle for unusual items (selection, purchase, packaging, circulation).
  • Strategically choose items that will have a low cost and high impact.

Who Should Attend

The proposed audience for this webinar is primarily made up of public librarians, state librarians, and consortium librarians - these are the sorts of libraries that have historically circulated unusual items. However, library staff providing services to special populations, including library users with disabilities and adults and youth who are incarcerated or detained, would also be well served by this webinar, because circulating unusual items allows libraries to reach patrons who would otherwise be difficult to serve. For example, circulating art supplies could have a profound positive impact on patrons with specific special needs.

Library staff providing services to special populations will be more able to identify the specific items they could circulate to have the best impact on their specific populations. This webinar is designed to show them how to circulate unusual items and what sort of impact circulating unusual items has had.


Alex Lent

Topic Area Expertise: Alex is not the first person to circulate unusual items, but is one of the loudest proponents. He's given several conference presentations on the subject, including a 75-minute presentation at the New England Library Association annual conference. He's written about it in LibFocus, and has been featured in Public Libraries Magazine and US News and World Report on the subject.

Teaching Experience: Alex spent two years as a PhD student, teaching assistant, and course instructor McGill University. He taught or TA'd courses on educational technology, advanced reference, library assessment, and cataloging.

Three Related Conference Presentations: Circulating Unusual Items, Invited Talk, New England Library Association Annual Conference, Manchester, NH, October 27, 2015.

025.28: Circulating Unusual Items in Public Libraries, Lightning Talk, New England Technical Services Librarians Annual Conference, Worcester, MA, April 10, 2015.

Surprise, Delight, Inspire: Circulating Unusual Items at a Small Public Library, Poster Presentation, Small Libraries Forum, Sturbridge, MA, October 29, 2014.

Other Conference Experience: Alex is a frequent conference presenter. He has spoken at the New England Library Association annual conference, the New England Technical Services Librarians annual conference, ALA MidWinter, and numerous regional conferences in Massachusetts, as well as conferences in Quebec and Halifax. In March 2016, he will be speaking at Computers in Libraries in Washington, DC. In May, he will be speaking at the Massachusetts Library Association annual conference. His previous speaking engagements are listed here: His upcoming speaking engagements are listed here:



Individual registration rates are as follows:
ASCLA members: $40
ALA members: $50
ALA student & retired members: $25
Non-members: $65
Group rate: $99 single login, $38/person multiple logins. (min. 2 people)

How to Register

Register online


Download the webinar registration form

Tech Requirements

This webinar will be offered using Adobe Connect. Please ensure that you have Adobe Flash Player Version 10.1 or later on your computer. Audio for these sessions will be streamed over computer speakers and via a teleconference line. You will be able to ask questions and interact with the presenter and other webinar participants via chat.

You can test your settings to verify that your computer is configured properly to participate in this webinar.


Questions about your registration should be directed to Technical questions about the webinar should be directed to Jennifer Cross RUSA Web Services Manager, at 

Thank you and we look forward to your participation!