The City of Rockingham: Using technology to transform the role of Australian libraries
The City of Rockingham is a rapidly developing residential area located on the coast of Western Australia about 40 kilometres south of Perth. The city is home to nearly 136,000 people who are served by the four library branches of the City of Rockingham’s Public Library system.
From two to four libraries in three years
When Alison Oliver became Manager of Library Services in 2013, the City of Rockingham was home to two library branches. Four years later, the system now boasts four library buildings as well as a pop-up branch in Autumn Centre, a senior community space.
“I came in and made a lot of changes, as you do,” says Oliver, laughing. “We really had two and a half branches, as one was a joint project with a Murdoch University, but all three sites were operating separately. We brought them together as the City of Rockingham Public Libraries.”
During Oliver’s first week, the city turned sod on Mary Davies Library and Community Centre. The modern multi-use space has won numerous awards for design and provided the first bit of community infrastructure for the booming Baldivis community. The branch opened to the public in 2014.
In 2016, the Rockingham Campus Community Library, a joint-use library with City of Rockingham, Murdoch University and Challenger TAFE, closed for a week and reopened as the Rockingham Central Library, under the sole leadership of City of Rockingham.
A new building deserves new technology
An automated materials handling system and RFID technology were included as part of the build process for Mary Davies Library.
“We were not convinced we needed a sorter, but having taken a visit to Margaret River to see theirs in action, we were sold,” says Oliver.
Initially, Oliver imagined the sorter housed within the library proper, but finding the perfect spot presented a problem. However, since the library shares space with the community centre (both managed by the library), she was able to devise a unique solution that was superior to the original plan.
She explains: “We moved the ingress of the sorter to the foyer of the community centre. Now, whenever the community centre is open, the sorter is on and people can return their books, sometimes as late as midnight. It has worked a lot better than having it inside the library and having a bottleneck as people are returning. If you are flexible in your thinking, you often end up with better solutions than those you originally imagined.”
RFID and AMH at Mary Davies was just the beginning. That installation provided a roadmap for the other branches. The Safety Bay branch upgraded to RFID and AMH systems in 2015; Warnbro Community Library completed their installation in December of 2016, and Rockingham Central just finished converting to RFID in September.
RFID + cloudLibrary™ – making the future possible
Though the four Rockingham branches are now managed as a single system, the communities they serve have very different needs.
Mary Davies is patronised by young families, Safety Bay by seniors. Rockingham Central serves a mix of the two. The Warnbro Community Library is a joint purpose library; housed on the Warnbro High School campus, the library offers programmes and materials for both the students of Warnbro High School and community members of all ages from the surrounding area. To ensure that each community is getting what it needs from its library, The City of Rockingham operates on a five-year strategic plan and uses small working groups that operate across all branches.
“Our strategic plan is the basis for our budget,” says Oliver. “In it, we outline the big picture and map out the mission of the library system over the next five years. The old definition of a library being ‘a room to house books and other items for loan’ is no longer relevant, and therefore we need to look for new ways to identify the value of the library service.”
Oliver is committed to turning Rockingham’s libraries into centres for community learning. There is a major emphasis on programmes, events, makers’ spaces, and outreach. Of course, there is still a need to keep collections robust and up to date. Oliver says that bibliotheca solutions help to make all of these goals possible.
“The selfCheck™ kiosks and AMH system free up staff time so that they can create, develop, and deliver services rather than concentrating on backroom busy work. The focus is on the customer rather than the process. We do a lot more events at the library and have a lot more people coming to the events because we’re able to get out there and do the marketing.”
RFID technology opens the door to the possibility of “floating stock” – allowing materials to remain at branches where they are most in demand instead of being returned to their home branch. This, in turn, reduces the time and money involved in transporting materials.
The selfChecks and AMH system free up staff time so that they can create, develop, and deliver services rather than concentrating on backroom busy work. The focus is on the customer rather than the process. We do a lot more events at the library and have a lot more people coming to the events because we’re able to get out there and do the marketing.
Rockingham went live with cloudLibrary in early 2017 and has seen remarkable success with the platform even with limited marketing. In the past, funds for electronic resources were scarce, if available, but Oliver has designated $23,000 to spend on e-resources in the coming year. Increased promotional and purchasing efforts in the latter half of the year have paid off. eResource + cloudLibrary usage has increased by 46% year-over-year.
“Most of that will be used to add to the cloudLibrary collection because it’s just so easy to use. We get very few requests for help, and those we do receive usually involve reregistering patrons’ cards, she says.
On the horizon
Rockingham’s five-year plan includes a renovation and refurbishment of the Safety Bay library to meet the changing needs of the community and allow space for additional programming.
If you are flexible in your thinking, you often end up with better solutions than those you originally imagined.
Plans are underway to open the Secret Harbour Library, a “boutique” library in a newly renovated shopping centre. The entire library will be only 650 square meters and feature flexible use spaces, lounge and computer space. To take full advantage of the space available, the library will be entirely self-serve. In addition to selfChecks, Oliver is considering using the smartShelf solution to manage floor stock.
The City of Rockingham is working on the longer range future of Rockingham Central Library – determining the best placement of the new building closer to the town centre and securing funding for the project. Once that library is complete, it too will be outfitted with a flex AMH sorter.
Oliver has this advice for those considering a switch to RFID: “Talk to your networks. Go see it in action. Be flexible and willing to change your plan if you need to. Working with bibliotheca has been wonderful. The staff has been great, and we look forward to working with them for years to come.”