How to Make the 24/7 the Library Work
Public libraries in American continue to serve their communities in fundamental ways, expanding beyond their stereotypical scope as “book repositories” to offer so much more. From offering education and test prep for children and adults alike to hosting outreach programs that feed the hungry and provide support for people facing domestic violence and substance abuse, libraries meet the public in a variety of contexts and configurations throughout each week. The presence of a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 has increased the complexity of delivering these services as library staff follows pandemic best practices to reduce the spread of the virus and visitor count is lowered. What avenues, then, do libraries have to turn to continue to meet the public in a time when meeting someone in public is potentially dangerous without sacrificing the services they offer?
One such solution, or rather a suite of solutions, is those offered by Bibliotheca. Bibliotheca has been offering library solutions to connect with their users, engage with their communities, and evolve their services using modern approaches and technological integration. The myriad of services they offer range from library user self-service solutions, item return and sorting support, security and protection for library materials, cloud-based collection services, their open+ access designed specifically for libraries wishing to offer more flexible, more impactful operation hours, and staff tools such as central administration, staff workplace, and inventory solutions. Alone or in combination with each other, these tools give libraries the ability to operate in new, technologically-reinforced ways that free up staff and budgets to allow for more and more responsive programming and services.
In 2019, Chief Information Officer Binh Le at LA County Library chose Avalon Library on Catalina Island as a testbed for Bibliotheca’s open+ access service, saying: “I’d been reading about open+ for a while and looking for a renovation project that would provide a good test case for LA County. I know open+ can be used to open up as much or little of a library as you choose, but I wanted our first installation to be used to allow patrons to access the entire library. Avalon Library fit the bill perfectly.” Open+ is a comprehensive solution designed to extend library service and complement staffed hours. Used in Europe for fifteen years and in place at more than 750 libraries around the globe, open+ allows all parts of the library from lights and security to public computers and self-checkout stations to be managed remotely, thereby providing patrons access to the library’s self-service resources even when a staff member cannot be onsite. “Ideally, we want to gain as many added access hours as possible to create a consistent schedule for the community,” said Le, illustrating the strength of Bibliotheca’s services in extending existing library availability and staff impact without straining these resources beyond budgetary constraints.
The ability to offer library services and maintain open hours when staff are not available has a massive secondary benefit in the COVID era. Both library staff and users are able to operate while following pandemic best practices, limiting contact and potential for exposure without limiting library resources to their communities in a time when the need for literature, entertainment, education, and other services libraries can offer is at an all-time high. Isolation can be a tough time for all involved, and having access to culture and information is as important a human need as any other. This is why Bibliotheca’s open+ access service is an ideal solution for libraries seeking to maintain their services without exposing their staff and visitors to undue risk. Additionally, Bibliotheca’s easy-to-use and comprehensive cloud-based digital collections offer libraries yet another avenue for offering books and other items without the need for physical handoffs of any kind, catering to users who are unable or unwilling to visit a library location at this time.
In an interview with EveryLibrary Executive Direction John Chrastka, Bibliotheca discusses concerns about integrating such technologies with existing libraries and how digital services can be used to alleviate staff and budgetary constraints, saying: “A common misconception about open libraries is that they use technology to replace staff. This is not the case. Though the open library model allows self-service access to library spaces and materials during unstaffed hours, an open library is not, and never will be without staff Librarians and staff are the heart and soul of any library. Open access solutions use technology to fully leverage the staff that is available. In thriving branches, this means more time for programming and outreach; in struggling branches, leveraging available staff permits branches to stay open and provide critical services. In both cases, staff are not being replaced; they’re being put to work on higher-value interactions and meet community needs.”
As Bibliotheca states: “The open library model has been in use throughout Europe for over a decade, offering library patrons additional access to their library’s space, materials, and resources, and in turn, making these libraries more convenient, accessible and valued by their communities. Only recently have the technological solutions for open library access become widely available in North America.” Times continue to change, spurred on ever more rapidly by digital innovations. Innovative library leaders across the continent are eager to provide their users with cutting-edge services and open access, but figuring out which solutions fit the task (and more importantly, the budget) can be daunting for even the most well-established public libraries. By exploring the services and technologies offered by Bibliotheca, libraries in America stand a strong chance of staying in the game, meeting the needs of their communities, and staying safe in these trying times, all without breaking the bank.