Leicestershire: using open+ to create a “smart library” experience
Leicestershire Libraries are comprised of 51 branches and three mobile libraries serving a population of 650,000 in the English Midlands. 16 of the Leicestershire branches are council run, most others are community led, and together they had a circulation of just over 1.5 million items in the last year.
In 2017, Leicestershire installed open+ in its Syston branch. The project was intended as a trial to see if open+ could extend access to the library space and help serve the community when the library service was facing a budget reduction. The open+ access was well received by Syston users so between April 2018 and April 2019, Leicestershire rolled out open+ to 13 additional branches. Leicestershire decided to promote their extended hours as “smart library” access.
open+ lets communities take full advantage of their libraries
open+ was first introduced in Denmark over a decade ago and is now used in more than 850 libraries across the globe. The comprehensive technological solution allows libraries to complement their staffed hours with open access hours when users can take advantage of libraries spaces, technology, materials, and self-service offerings. Library buildings, doors, lighting, selfChecks, public announcement systems, and public computers can be controlled from a remote location and accessed by library users by scanning their library cards at the entrance panel.
“This technology enabled us to not only keep our libraries open, but we’ve also been able to expand the opening hours and encourage more community use of library spaces,” says Liz Evans, Locality Manager, Leicestershire Libraries.
Though implementing open+ in so many branches in such a short amount of time was challenging, many Leicestershire residents are happy to have extended access. The library is careful to maintain staff at branches during the times that are most popular – early mornings for seniors, afternoons for school age families, and of course, weekends for users of all ages.
Leicestershire allows library users 16 and older to receive a “smart library membership” after completing a short induction (either face to face or online) designed to explain the technology and the rules for use. Children under 16 are allowed to use the library during smart hours if accompanied by a guardian over the age of 18.
“We had over 40,000 logins in the first 6 months of operation and the most popular age group was 60 – 69. However, we have also noticed a month on month increase in the 30 -39 age group” says Evans.
Balancing a reduced budget with a desire to provide more services
Many library services are facing difficult decisions around funding and Leicestershire is no exception. The emphasis there has been to keep as many libraries open as possible. Fortunately, by implementing the open+ solution, Leicestershire was able not only to keep sites open, but to increases hours in the 14 branches by 98% while saving a total of £230,000.
Customers appreciate the extended access and Leicestershire has seen a 16% increase in library membership since implementing open+.
“Many users like coming in during smart hours because it is quieter than during staffed hours. It’s also easy for customers to remember when the library opens with newly consistent open hours,” says Evans.
Some branches are busier during smart hours than others, and Leicestershire is in the midst of a communications campaign to make sure all book groups and community groups, such as ‘knit and knatter’, craft clubs and history societies know that they can meet in the library free of charge during Smart Library hours. The libraries are also installing security camera systems and touchscreens in order to provide customers with additional support during smart hours.
Evans has this to offer libraries considering implementing open+: “Take your time, and make sure you give as much notice as possible so customers can sign up and get acquainted with the system.”
“We have also noticed an increase in membership since installing open+. At least some of this increase was due to the large number of adult learning classes that take place in the libraries during smart hours” says Evans.