First open+ library in Belgium extends opening hours by 180 percent
The Bree Public Library is the first library in Belgium to implement Bibliotheca’s open+ solution, and the pioneering library has experienced great success. Library customers had long requested additional open hours, particularly on the weekends. After hearing about the success that other European reference libraries had had with the open+ solution, city decision-makers were convinced to try the solution in Bree. Since implementation, the Bree Public Library has increased its open hours from 30 hours per week to 84, an increase of 180%.
For two months prior to the launch, Annemie Arras, Director of the Bree Library, worked closely with a user group to determine how open+ could best serve the community. The library is now open not only on weekdays from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., but also on weekends. This collaboration ensured an ideal solution for everyone involved, and the ensuing excitement over the project attracted attention from TV, radio, and print press – establishing The Bree Public Library as an innovator in library services.
Meeting user needs has always been a top priority for The Bree Library. Before the launch of open+, the library’s budget could only accommodate limited open hours, but the library did it’s best to schedule those hours to be most convenient for its users. On weekdays, the doors were open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to give the working population the opportunity to use the library. In order to reach the schoolchildren, the staff was available again from 3:30 p.m. Even though the library had to close on Friday at noon and Saturday at 3 p.m., it still offered 30 staffed hours a week.
“Our visitors were constantly requesting that the library be open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and we were determined to find a solution to meet those needs,” says Arras.
The library’s budget could only accommodate increasing the staff from 3.5 to 4 people, which didn’t come close to meeting the need. “With an additional half-day employee, we could have opened a maximum of three hours longer a week. That was clearly too little for us. When Bibliotheca shared the success of Open Library libraries in Germany and Scandinavia, I was thrilled. It seemed like a perfect solution. open+ offered enough convincing arguments to get the local decision makers on board,” says Arras.
“Bree is our brilliant open+ pioneer in Belgium. Annemie Arras and her team have achieved amazing things in just a few months. With outstanding customer communication, creativity, and intense commitment on local level, Bree ensured open+ would be an ideal solution for their library. Opening 180 percent longer is a great success! We are very proud to be the first open+ library in Belgium,” says Wim Markus, Bibliotheca Sales Director Central Europe.
“The only way to expand opening hours was to have the library fully automated, so that was our goal,” says Arras. This meant that all infrastructure such as the entire library technology, lighting, heating, all visitor PCs, the security system and the payment machine had to be linked to the open+ system. In practice, this means that the first visitor at open+ times activates all systems by logging in, and all systems are automatically shut down again at 10 p.m. The two self-checkouts and the intelligent shelving were also integrated into the system to provide users with a fully functional library.
Six-week test phase for customer-specific adaptations
Bree came up with an excellent strategy to make sure that open+ would meet the expectations of the community. Arras recruited nearly 50 member-ambassadors who agreed to be available to answer questions, test, and evaluate the system over a six-week period. Each week the ambassadors completed an email survey to help the library understand what users wanted from open+. These citizen-oriented insights helped the library to formulate its own set of rules for open+ hours, ensuring a safe atmosphere and feeling of well-being throughout the library.
They examined in detail which services visitors would expect during staff-free hours, which activities they would carry out, which opening hours should be supplemented, which rules of conduct and access rules should be established and, most importantly, which security measures should be taken, as well as how users would behave in an emergency. The ambassadors also had exclusive access in open+ mode before the official launch so they could have practical experience of the solution and provide feedback to staff.
Communication & personal responsibility
“Only through direct open communication can we discover the needs of our visitors. That’s why it was very important to us that the users help shape and support our new solution right from the start,” stresses Arras.
The rules and regulations explicitly state the responsibilities of visitors. Even in an emergency, everyone must be aware that there is no supervision on site and that any necessary first aid would require calling the standard municipal emergency numbers. Only users who have been registered as library customers for more than three months and are over 18 years of age are granted access through open+. To access the library during open+ hours, visitors must scan their library card and enter their pin code on the access panel, while taking care that no one else (other than their own children) enter under their login.
In order to get an open+ pin code the library requires that visitors attend a one-hour information event and to sign the rules and regulations.
“As expected, the demand for these events is high. We are currently holding one or two presentations a week, which are well attended by around 50 people,” explains Arras. The library also uses its website and its Facebook page to provide information about the additional offerings and to reach all target groups.
Optimization of the room structure
The need for open, clear spatial planning became apparent during the test phase. With open+, the library installed nine surveillance cameras and two loudspeakers. For security reasons, library areas that were difficult to see were structured differently and more openly so that nothing could happen in secret. The returns, which were originally scattered throughout the library, are now next to each other near the entrance. The library also marked the emergency exits more clearly.
In open+ mode, before the first visitor logs in for the day, low, inviting lighting is active. As soon as the first visitor logs in, the entire library is illuminated. This is a clear signal for every new customer that there are already people in the library.
The Bree Public Library serves 16,000 residents and counts 4,500 active members. Three full-time and one part-time employee take care of a stock of about 55,000 materials in the 1,250 sqm space. “It is one of our core tasks to be up to date and to provide all educational and library services for our community in line with the expectations of today’s digital society,” concludes Annemie Arras.
Insights + Trends
Califa and the California State Library invites California public libraries to apply for the Libraries open+ grant.