Express “Branches” Provide Library Access to Exploding Toronto Suburb
Located just 40 minutes outside of Toronto; Oakville, ON is a busy suburb experiencing exponential growth. The city is home to over 200,000 residents, and with an estimated growth rate of nearly 2% annually, that number is rising quickly. The Oakville Public Library serves this expanding community with seven full-service branches that see 1.2 million visitors a year. Still, the demand for library access outstrips availability. Using bibliotheca’s remoteLockers, Oakville has come up with an innovative way to bridge that gap – OPL Express locations.
Meeting the Need ASAP
“It can take 15 years to open a new library branch from beginning to end,” says Tara Wong, CEO of Oakville Public Library. “Even with quick growth and high-density housing, you have to wait a number of years to have the funding to actually build the infrastructure and services a community needs.”
This is a dilemma familiar to many fast-growing municipalities, and Oakville is no exception. To make matters worse, population growth means traffic snarls, which can make getting to the library branches before closing time difficult for some busy Toronto commuters – something OPL is working to address.
“We completely understand the challenges they are facing,” says Wong. “The question becomes, how can we make it possible for them to make use of the library and its materials while we work on building more branches.”
So, three years ago, Oakville decided to open its first OPL Express location in Queen Elizabeth Park Community and Cultural Center (QEP). The OPL Express is built on the backbone of bibliotheca’s remoteLocker – an easy-to-use, modular library holds locker solution that can be placed anywhere in the community.
Growing demand from a growing community
remoteLocker allows library users to request materials from any library branch and have them delivered to a convenient locker location. The items can then be picked up any time the building is open. QEP is open most days from 6 am to 10 pm, much longer hours than those offered by the nearest library branch.
The QEP Express station was so successful – regularly stocked to capacity within months of installation – that OPL has since added additional towers of 10 lockers each to the existing remoteLocker for more holds storage and opened two additional Express locations. Each location is outfitted with remoteLockers and offer other on-site programming like story time or early literacy computers.
The second location, at Sixteen Mile, a sports complex, was installed just a year before a temporary branch was opened across the parking lot in the same area. The results have been surprising. Though a branch is nearby, the remoteLocker circulation is outstripping the original QEP location.
“We did a marketing survey in 2018 and discovered that inconvenient hours were one of the two key factors for people not using the library. So, we decided to leave the Express location open at Sixteen Mile, because the complex is open 18 hours a day,” says Wong.
To take maximum advantage of the circulation opportunities at the Sixteen Mile Express location, Oakville is partnering with bibliotheca to implement new remoteLocker tower designs. One of the new towers features 15 smaller lockers within the same space that traditionally fit 10. Wong says the new tower with increased hold pick-up capacity is a welcome addition.
“Seeing the success of the remoteLocker at QEP, it was a no-brainer to add on the latest tower types bibliotheca developed,” she says. OPL will also be implementing the new transparent door lockers at the QEP location. The transparent door towers offer a browsable collection for patrons visiting the remoteLocker to pick up their hold items.
“The transparent door lockers are quite large and visible to users of the community center, and we plan to use them to circulate “lucky day” collections, sets of DVDs as ‘binge boxes’ for a rainy weekend, or a variety of items centred around a theme,’ says Wong. “We’re working through a few challenges within our ILS/LMS to bundle multiple materials together that will be checked out when a patron browses and borrows the contents of one locker, but I’m really excited to see how it goes.”
In addition to standard materials, the transparent lockers can also be used to showcase non-traditional lending items like STEAM kits, instruments, or sports kits. Wong says this capability offers libraries a unique educational opportunity: “We think of the people who exclusively use the remoteLockers as gateway users. The lockers offer us a chance to let them know what other programmes and services we offer, and to slip in a little marketing. Many of our patrons are very traditional users, and they don’t even know about all of the things we do and lend, so the holds pickup is like a gateway to everything else.”
What’s Next for OPL?
The library’s recent marketing survey revealed a significant opportunity to educate the Oakville citizens about everything the library offers. With the help of outside marketing advice, Wong is taking full advantage of that through email campaigns and rebranding. The library has a new logo and is currently updating the graphic wraps on the remoteLockers to highlight the library’s brand in its locations throughout the community.
Marketing Materials created by Oakville Public Library
As they wrap up their 2016-2019 strategic plan, Wong is happy with the progress the library has made over the past few years and excited about what the future holds.
“The last plan period has been a real blooming for Oakville,” she says. “It’s been about getting into the community, building strong partnerships, and making sure we know what our users actually need, not just what we think they need.”
One thing they need: even more access.
“People love being able to multi-task and pick up library items while dropping their children off at sports practice or while running errands. The partnerships we’ve built with other community services has been critical. The Recreation and Culture Department are asking for OPL Express locations in more recreation centers – they’d like them in all of them!” she says.
In the meantime, OPL is extending access to digital materials by implementing cloudLibrary and becoming part of Ontario’s cloudLink group. Currently, the Ontario cloudLink group offers member libraries access to over 100,000 shared eBooks and eAudiobooks, while still allowing libraries to maintain their own private digital collections.
“We are excited to integrate more of our services, which cloudLibrary makes possible,” says Wong. “And the cloudLink group allows our users to share thousands of additional titles held by other libraries in the area.”
Both the remoteLockers and the new cloudLibrary app serve the same mission for Oakville Public Library and it’s growing community:
“These services allow us to get into spaces sooner, meet the needs of the community where they are, and remind people that we exist and are here to serve them.”