Bentonville, Arkansas, may be best known as the birthplace and world headquarters of Walmart, but the city offers so much more. Museums, festivals, High South cuisine – Bentonville has cultural attractions for every taste, and with over 140 miles of hard and soft trails, the city is one of the top cycling destinations in North America. Word is spreading, and Bentonville is growing. The population has risen by 50% in the last ten years, and today, the Bentonville Public Library serves a community of more than 54,000.
Forward thinking from the beginning
Opened in 2006, the main branch of the Bentonville Public Library was built as an RFID library. From the start, the library offered self-service checkout and used automated return boxes to process returned items.
Seeking to serve the community beyond the library walls, the library partnered with the Parks and Recreation department in 2015 to open a mini branch within the 80,000 square foot Bentonville Community Center. Home to a natatorium, a fitness center, and a long list of athletic and social programing, the location was a perfect place to reach more of Bentonville’s active community. However, the library faced a challenge: how to provide access to library resources and materials in an essentially open space without the benefit of library staff.
“We were searching for a way to provide self-service options, knowing that we would not have any library staff at the community center,” says Courtney Fitzgerald, Circulation Librarian “We looked at every option on the market: vending machines, robotic busses, RFID shelves. We settled on Bibliotheca because their quickConnect software was so engaging and so easy to use.”
Self-service that is as easy as it’s supposed to be
While Bentonville was evaluating various self-service options, Bibliotheca acquired 3M library solutions, merging quickConnect software with modern hardware that resulted in the new selfCheck.
“It was the best of both worlds for us,” says Fitzgerald. “The selfCheck is so intuitive and so engaging, which is perfect for a completely self-service library. Once we saw them in action at the Community Center, we knew we wanted them for the main branch.”
Not only did Bentonville install two selfChecks in the mini-library and three in the main library, they also launched a naming campaign to get the community excited about the new technology. The patron response was enthusiastic. Suggestions poured in and winners were selected. To honor the partnership with the Parks and Recreation department, the selfChecks in the Community Center were dubbed, “Parker” and “Rex.” In a nod to the Tolkien’s classic, Lord of the Rings, the main library’s selfChecks were named Gandalf, Frodo, and Arwen.
“Our patrons love the selfChecks. People will stand in line to check out their own materials even when there is no line at the circulation desk,” says Hadi Dudley, Library Director.
Each selfCheck has a custom graphic wrap featuring the library’s colors, logo, and a name badge. The displays can be customized, which allows Bentonville to infuse each selfCheck with its own personality – a feature much appreciated by the youngest patrons.
“Throughout the day, we’ll hear littles tell their parents, ‘I used Gandalf last time, I’m going to use Arwen today!’” says Fitzgerald. “When we say they are more excited to check out with the selfChecks than the humans – it really is true.”
Integrated solutions make everything easier
Once Bentonville selected the selfChecks for self-service, they began evaluating their other needs and discovered that Bibliotheca had solutions to meet those as well. They chose Bibliotheca’s wide aisle gates specifically to accommodate big bags of athletic gear, but they soon discovered the gates did so much more.
“Once the gates were there, we realized the software was far beyond what we had with our existing vendor at the main branch,” says Fitzgerald. “ The Bibliotheca gates could identify specific items that had not been deactivated. Without an integrated interface, our other gates required us to go through each item, one at a time, to find which had triggered the alarm.”
Building on the Community Center success, the library installed Bibliotheca gates at the main branch as well.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” says Fitzgerald. “We knew it would significantly streamline our operations, and it’s really cut down on our staff intervention. We switched over to all Bibliotheca products because of that community center.”
Moving forward in the face of difficult times
The global pandemic challenged all libraries, and Bentonville is no exception. However, with the help of funding from the CARES Act and The American Rescue Plan Act, Bentonville is poised to provide better service to its community than ever before.
For years, patrons have been asking to use the Community Center as a holds-pickup location. Without library staff on-site, granting that request seemed impossible until recently. Now, dollars from the two federal pandemic relief programs have enabled to Bentonville to install Bibliotheca remoteLockers at both the Community Center and the main library.
“Our patrons now have options for picking up their holds that they never had before,” says Dudley. “They can request that items be sent to the pickup lockers at the Community Center, the outdoor locker at the main library, or just held inside the library. We’ve only had the lockers for a few days and people are already using them. We expect high volume and high usage in days to come.”
While the library is using a traditional remoteLocker inside the Community Center building, they decided to take advantage of Bibliotheca’s new remoteLocker outdoor option for the main branch.
“We installed the remoteLocker outdoor on our library’s veranda to provide 24/7/365 access to library materials,” says Dudley. “It’s perfect for early birds, night owls, and Sunday drivers because those people can visit our library and pick up their items when we’re not even open.”
As part of Bibliotheca’s ecosystem, the remoteLockers offer the same engaging, intuitive experience found on the selfCheck. The touchscreen display is customizable and can even be used as a digital billboard when paired with uniFi+, Bibliotheca’s integrated library communication solution.
The library is also upgrading its self-checkout experience with four new selfCheck 1000 kiosks. The new kiosks will still offer the animated displays Bentonville children love as well as a host of new features including LED guidance, a 22-inch portrait screen, and self-pay options.
“We are really excited about the selfCheck ecommerce options,” says Dudley. “People are sometimes embarrassed to pay their fines and fees to us in person, and they’ve been asking for credit card payment options for years.”
Bentonville in is the midst of a large expansion project. The library is planning to add nearly 23,000 square feet to its existing library in order to provide more collections, more space, more programs, and more opportunities to for its community to connect. The expansion will include a maker’s space, a sensory room, an expanded children’s area, expanded collaboration spaces and meeting rooms, as well as a business center.
“We love showing off our library and talking about our wonderful patrons,” says Fitzgerald. “Bibliotheca has been a big part of our impact on our community, and we’re very grateful.”
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