From Landmark Church to Modern Library
Athy Community Library in County Kildare, Ireland, opened its doors on 3 May 2018. Housed in a beautifully renovated 1960s Dominican Church, the library seamlessly blends historic architecture, engaging community-centric programmes, an expanding collection and innovative bibliotheca library technology to serve nearly 30,000 users from Athy and the surrounding hinterlands. In its first year of operation, Athy has welcomed over 100,000 visitors, circulating over 60,000 items in the first nine months alone.
A sacred, historical landmark becomes a modern library
In the early 1960s, Father Phillip Pollock, Prior of Athy, travelled much of post-war Europe with architect James Thompson gathering inspiration for a new Dominican church to replace the existing chapel which was beyond repair. The result of their journeys was the construction of St. Dominic’s Catholic Church – a building so remarkable that it revolutionised church building in Ireland and became an Athy Landmark, listed on Ireland’s Record of Protected Structures.
Considered Ireland’s first modern church inspired by Vatican II, the former St. Dominic’s now Athy Library, is a stunning example of freestanding brutalist style. It features a hyperbolic paraboloid roof and abstract stained glass by Wicklow-born artist George Campbell, a famous painter and writer also responsible for the stained glass of the Galway Cathedral.
In 2015, due to a lack of friars, the Dominicans vacated the property and passed the church and its property to the Kildare County council to be developed for community use. Kildare recognised the historic space as an ideal location for a modern library, designed to be a hub for social, cultural, and educational engagement.
Self-service frees staff time to facilitate groups, clubs and workshops
Given the cultural significance of the church, Kildare Council took the utmost care in refurbishing and outfitting the building to serve its new mission. They worked with the local community, the library team, planners, architects and bibliotheca to create an open, functional space that harnesses the power of library technology to provide the most engaging library experience possible.
The new library features two community meeting spaces, 12 public PCs, and multiple collection areas outfitted with bibliotheca selfCheck 1000 self-service kiosks. The main area, formerly the chapel, was redesigned for flexibility. Furniture can be easily rearranged to accommodate any number of uses. “We’ve had over 500 events here in our first year,” says Laura Larkin, Athy Branch Manager.
Laura Larkin says pulling off programming like this would not be possible without the bibliotheca solutions the library has in place. 76% of all lending, returning, and payment transactions are handled at their three selfCheck kiosks.
“The selfChecks are really pivotal in freeing up staff time here in the library. No longer are you just at a desk checking in and checking out items. You’re free to facilitate groups, clubs, workshops, and to organise and facilitate events. It makes a monumental difference!”
The selfCheck 1000 was built from the ground up to simplify and enhance self-service. The intuitive 22-inch touchscreen display, powered by quickConnect software, is simple enough for small children to navigate while offering nearly endless customisations. Using included templates, the display can be easily modified to promote library events and services at checkout or create different user-specific experiences at kiosks throughout a library.
“During the summer we use a bee-themed template in our children’s area and incorporate the summer reading logo. The children love it! Since the selfChecks are so easy to use, the children get really excited about checking out their own materials and act as in-house marketing for self-service,” says Laura Larkin.
Athy positions return shelves next to each selfCheck, which not only makes returning materials easy for users but also acts as a de facto display for popular, recently returned items.
Laura Larkin explains, “The software offers a function that separates items that need further processing from those ready for staff to re-shelve, which definitely streamlines the workflow. During installation, the bibliotheca technician took pictures of the kiosk and return shelves and created a visual guide for users, so they’d know exactly where to put their items. We always see users browsing the return area for popular items that have just been checked in.”
Saving staff time on reporting and preparing for future open library access
The selfChecks are certainly popular with users but Laura Larkin says the bibliotheca RFID gate premium security detection system, though less noticeable, also saves staff a significant amount of time.
The premium gates provide a wide aisle entrance, perfect for wheelchairs, wide strollers, or large groups – something familiar to the busy Athy library. The modern, stylish clear panels integrate beautifully with the library’s aesthetic, and the RFID technology makes keeping track of materials and visitor counts a breeze.
“The gates and software have been fantastic in freeing up my time as branch manager. I can collate statistical reports from the library at the touch of a button. I don’t have to go press off door counters at the end of each day or reset anything. It’s so easy to use,” says Laura Larkin.
During the remodel, Athy took advantage of the opportunity to future-proof the library by ensuring infrastructure was in place to implement open library functionality. Though they haven’t yet installed open+, a comprehensive system that allows libraries to increase access and extend hours beyond those the library is able to staff, Laura Larkin says she’d welcome it and the chance to continue working with bibliotheca.
“I think making the library open to users seven days a week is a wonderful idea, and I don’t want to work Sundays, so it’s perfect!” she laughs. “Our experience working with the bibliotheca team has been absolutely fantastic. The whole process from installing to aftercare and troubleshooting has been really pleasurable. The customer support service from bibliotheca has been really good, very prompt, very reliable, just absolutely brilliant. I look forward to our continued relationship.”