Combined Shape
Customer Story
Community Library Access: Mesa Express Library at Monterey Park
Mesa public library
May 22, 2024
Trailblaze the way for a fully unstaffed branch filled with new materials and abundant holds lockers in a popular city park, while assuring full, real-time service at the touch of a screen.
Utilize open+ to not only expand hours at branches, but also to grant the community complete access to a specialized unstaffed branch located on a well-traveled community route.
A high-interest unstaffed branch that has captured the attention of library users and non-users alike, and inspired city leadership to explore adding this unique library model to other park locations.

Under a clear blue sky inside popular Monterey Park in Mesa, Arizona, a small, colorfully bright library branch invites community members to serve themselves, and that’s exactly what they do. The first completely self-service library in Arizona, and one of only two in the United States, the “Express Library” branch of the Mesa Public Library is a gem, and the community can’t get enough.

With their Mesa Public Library card and PIN, patrons can access all of the goodies inside the Express Library while taking a stroll, catching a softball game, having a picnic, or playing frisbee…using a frisbee they checked-out from the Express Library.

Boasting abundant outdoor lockers to pick up holds, outdoor bins to return borrowed items, and self-check stations inside, the Express Library offers the community everything it needs to continually enjoy a wide variety of popular books, movies, and even jump ropes, pickleball equipment, and other unique items from the “Stuffbrary.” Along with free WiFi, visitors relish the outdoor mini-amphitheater, toddler playground, and special spaces both inside and out to sit, read, and commune.

MESA express library childrens area

The Express Library is the brainchild of Mesa Public Library Director Polly Bonnett and Library Technology Administrator Brandon Williams. Already longtime users of Bibliotheca library selfChecks, automated handling systems (AMHs), security gates, and holds lockers, they explored Bibliotheca’s open+ system in order to monitor indoor capacity limits.

“We were one of the first to look at using open+ for its monitoring capacities, that’s where I learned a lot about the product,” Williams says. “During the pandemic, we utilized the open+ system to manage entry within a specified capacity at various branches. After almost a year, as we resumed normal hours, open+ was already operational in two of our locations. With the intention of extending hours using open+ technology at staffed locations, we selected one branch for early morning access. Having confirmed that everything functioned smoothly, we demonstrated the setup to our staff for our Express Library and created a video to guide patrons through the entire experience.

Bonnett explains, “We had trialed it during Covid, but what we found when we were discussing using this as a fully self-service Express Library was that most libraries that were using open+, at least in the United States, were using it to expand staffed hours or in conjunction with staffed hours. It was rarely completely self-service, and so we were entering into unknown territory.”

MESA express library video-kiosk

The territory may have been unknown, but Mesa was a perfect place to experiment. A suburb of Phoenix, Mesa has a diverse population of over 500,000 making up an engaged community focused on innovation and bringing technology companies and jobs to town. This whole-city, future-focused mindset means the library has plenty of opportunities to think creatively and use technology to enhance the lives of its residents.

“I would say that Mesa Public Library has been known for being innovative, for being very forward-thinking and embracing ways that we can evolve our library services,” Bonnett says. “We have been at the forefront of offering new concepts to libraries, like the makerspace. We were the first in Arizona to open a makerspace ten years ago in our libraries, and now it’s become pretty standard.”

“As far as we know, Mesa is the first to do a fully self-service express library located in a park, “ Bonnett continues. “One of the things that we learned from this is, we anticipated a lot more questions from our patrons that were using the space. We have a video chat kiosk, with staff members at our other locations available for questions, but I would say that it’s more used out of curiosity than actual necessity.”

Williams agrees and adds, “We also introduced an augmented reality (AR) feature that involves a QR code displayed on the PIN pad at the building’s entrance. Scanning this QR code activates a virtual assistant named Veronica, who appears on your device and provides verbal instructions on how to use the library and register for services.”

“Bibliotheca support was great for open+. It’s a quick and simple tool to use, and I like that we now have multiple branches on open+ and how we can set all the different calendar options for each branch, for closures, for hours, and things like that. It’s easy to show staff how to make changes; I really like the functionality of it. Patrons seem to like it, it’s easy enough for staff to use, and the technology just works.”


The community has responded positively to the Express Library since its opening in October 2023, using it consistently and in great numbers. So far, patrons have placed 3,062 holds to pick up at the Express Library outdoor lockers, and the convenience and freedom to pop over to Monterey Park and stop by the lockers makes all the difference. As an added draw, Williams and Bonnett decided to make the Express Library function as an entire “lucky day” collection, in which items inside that location are not holdable and are not floatable. The Express Library is filled with new books that are typically on hold through other branches, meaning patrons will have a lucky day if they visit the Express Library and find those same items available on the shelves.

“We have heard a lot of positive comments from our patrons and community members in the surrounding neighborhood, because it is a very kind of hyper-local experience,” Bonnett says. “When we were having conversations at community meetings, what was interesting is that the non-traditional library users, or those who didn’t typically use the library, were intrigued and interested in the Express Library concept and this self-service location. I heard several comments of, ‘I would use that,’ or ‘that’s interesting and I would want to check that out.’ We didn’t necessarily expect that feedback, but it’s drawing potential new users who don’t use traditional library services.”

MESA express library holds remoteLockers

Bonnett continues,open+ enhanced our ability to be more flexible, to think creatively, to consider what the future of library services might look like, by trying something totally new in a smaller, more controlled space. I think one way it’s been really successful is the way that we’re using open+ in the self-service express model: it’s surrounded by outside amenities, it’s in a park, in a sports complex, next to a school, next to a playground, and in the middle of a neighborhood. So, it’s kind of become the center of people’s daily life. And that’s what’s really neat about it. We hear those stories from our patrons and people in the neighborhood that it’s become part of their regular routine, and they stop there every day.”

As for the future, expect to see more technological innovation and patron-focused services from Mesa Public Library. They are soon to break ground for their fourth full-service library branch and are working with the city to potentially expand upon the success of the Express Library, by adding more satellite library services to parks around Mesa. The goal is to increase access to library materials and services, especially for those who don’t live near a library branch. With the recent awarding of the Monterey Park Expansion, City of Mesa project as a recipient of the 2023 Public Works Project of the Year by the Arizona Chapter of the American Public Works Association, the addition of more Express Libraries looks promising.

“We have such talented, dedicated people who work here, who want to contribute to the good of our community, and our community responds in turn,” says Bonnett. “They notice, and they feel that we invest in them. We’re also inspired by other libraries…to think of how we can evolve into the future and meet those expectations that our patrons have, in new and unexpected ways. Credit and thanks to our City, our staff, our community, and other libraries that continue to inspire us and help us dream a little bit bigger. I guess that’s the bottom line. It may be intimidating, but it’s worth trying new things and taking a chance sometimes.”


You may also like

Insights + Trends