The Bargoed Library is a branch of the Caerphilly Library Service, situated in the Rhymney Valley of South Wales. The library, built in a renovated historic chapel in 2011, serves 15K people from the surrounding area, offering programmes such as coding classes, music programmes, literacy programmes, and mental health groups in addition to an extensive multi-floored library collection.
Once a booming coal mining town, Bargoed, and the entire Rhymney Valley was hard hit by the closure of the colliery in 1970 and the further closure of an auto parts factory in 1999. Today, the library, part of the ongoing Bargoed redevelopment scheme, serves as an important community resource for continued learning and economic advancement in the historically industrial community.
So Much More Than Books
The Bargoed Library, housed in the landmark and Grade 2 listed Hanbury Chapel in the heart of Bargoed town centre offers much more than materials for loan. It functions as the community’s third place – a spot to meet, take a yoga class, learn to play an instrument, search for a job, or even worship in the still extant chapel.
“The Dickensian role of libraries was to provide resources and access to information to the working classes, but we do a lot more these days,” says Damon Christopher, Senior Library Assistant at Bargoed Library.
Even so, the spirit of the worker abounds in this town built on industry. Just down the road is a statue of three coal miners with the inscription, “With pride remember them for us a future they built, remember the miners. Our town slowly built around the mine, developed into something fine.”
Today, however, the mines are gone, and Damon says the library serves as a way forward for workers transitioning from the world of industry to the world of technology.
“People who have been primarily physical workers can sit down in their library and learn a skill that can allow them to set a business up that is globally active. I am aware of people who work down the valley that liaise with American and Chinese farming operatives to analyse their automation processes.”
To help teach these skills, the library offers multiple of coding courses and other programmes. Where do they find the time? Bargoed Library uses bibliotheca’s self-service solutions to free up staff to deliver these important services.
New selfChecks are a New Experience
Bargoed installed self-checkout machines when it first opened as a library in 2011. After nearly a decade, it was time for a technology upgrade. The library replaced its existing solutions with two bibliotheca selfCheck 500 kiosks.
“The new machines are much, much faster. They have no lag, and our customers find them really easy to use,” says Damon.
Using RFID technology, customers are able to borrow or return multiple items at once – no need to scan each item individually and in addition Caerphilly Library Service utilises Mifare Smartcard chip technology in their membership cards. Powered by quickConnect software, the selfChecks feature beautiful, intuitive touchscreen displays that make borrowing and returning items a breeze, even for first-time users.
“We have elderly people using the selfChecks; we have people with learning disabilities quite comfortable using them,” says Damon. “Mums can use them with one hand, and people with disabilities find them easy to use because the screens are the right height – they’re accessibility friendly.”
The library’s older machines struggled to keep up with demand, which resulted in an endemic attitude that self-service was difficult and unreliable. The new selfChecks have reversed that belief. Christopher says that customers now stop by the desk for a chat, then take their materials to the kiosks for self-checkout.
“It’s been really, really important to us, and going forward self-service will be a protection for both staff and public.”
Privacy, Compliance, and Communication
When the technology was first introduced, customers were initially concerned that the selfCheck machines would be used to replace staff jobs. Damonr says this could not be further from the truth.
“The selfChecks allow staff to give one-to-one support, walking around the library helping people find the resources they need as opposed to chained to our desks.”
Bargoed frequently hosts school groups, serving 25-50 students with each visit. The selfChecks make it possible to get all of those students and their materials through the checkout process quickly with time left over to help students find the perfect J.K Rowling or Jacqueline Wilson title.
Though personalised attention is wonderful, Damon says that sometimes, privacy is what is most needed. Here too, self-service through the selfChecks fits the bill.
“If someone is struggling with anxiety and depression sometimes they don’t want to go up to the counter. They don’t want people to know that they are taking a bit of therapy stock out. If youth want to take stock out on LGBTQ issues, self-service gives them that privacy to do that,” says Damon.
The quickConnect software is highly customisable, allowing libraries to offer self-service in any language a customer may prefer. Bargoed selfChecks are configured to operate in both Welsh and English, so users can choose the language with which they feel most comfortable.
“Offering bilingual service is really big in Wales right now. The Welsh standards mean we can be fined for not offering it. So the bilingual selfChecks are protecting us as well as protecting our customers’ cultural rights,” says Damon.
In addition to an excellent user interface, the selfCheck displays can be customised to match seasonal or program themes as well as promote library events and programmes to customers at checkout.
Damon says this feature is an unexpected boon the library. “One of the things the kids like is how we can change the background to match the theme we may be celebrating. We can update the messages to let our customers know about upcoming events. It’s really easy to do. The staff like doing it, and it gives us on-the-ground marketing within our library that we wouldn’t have without those screens.”
Excellent Self-service Fueled by Excellent Customer Service
Bargoed Library already offers countless community programmes and resources, but they have many more offerings in the works. Plans include using the library drone to do mapping for Alzheimer’s and dementia support, creating a maker’s space in the library, producing YouTube storytime content, and setting up Saturday acoustic performances in the chapel.
The library service as a whole is also working on a School Engagement Programme with the local schools to deliver digital and reading support for pupils to enhance their skills and ability as part of a wider Education and Wellbeing strategy.
“We are looking forward at our relationship with bibliotheca and the projects we’re going to be able to do because of the support and care that bibliotheca provides,” says Damon. “When the bibliotheca engineers are onsite they are really supportive and informal. They are always willing to stop and have a cuppa with us. They stand and chat and answer our questions on the spot in a really easy way or go back and find out. Even the online support feels like talking to someone you know.”
The Bargoed community is proud of its library and with good reason. The heritage site is beautiful, and the technology allows the branch to offer inclusive and accessible services for all, for life.