Garland County, Arkansas, encompasses 735 square miles in the midst of the Ouachita Mountains. It’s home to the nation’s first federal reservation, which later became Hot Springs National Park. Founded to serve the very first settlers of Hot Springs, Garland County Public Library was founded in 1833 and predates the state of Arkansas itself by three years. On hundred and ninety years later, the library still serves a widely dispersed population of over 100,000 residents from a single branch in the heart of Hot Springs.
Reaching rural residents
Meeting the needs of far-flung communities is a familiar challenge for many library systems, but the rugged terrain of Garland County makes it especially difficult.
“We are a single-site library in a very large county,” says Executive Director Adam Webb. “Because our community is in a geographically difficult location, surrounded by mountains and numerous lakes, there are communities in our county that are over an hour away. They are so dispersed that it’s really difficult for us to figure out any traditional way to serve those people.”
Garland County already had a popular home delivery service, but that wasn’t scalable to fit the needs of the growing communities on the north and west side of the county. And though the library considered the feasibility of a traditional three-branch model, the cost was prohibitive.
“We realized that what these residents really needed was a place to pick up and drop off holds and checkouts,” says Webb.
All Arkansas public libraries received funding from the Cares Act, and Garland County decided to earmark those funds to find a solution.
Improving service for all
A long-time customer, the library was already familiar with Bibliotheca’s reputation. When they were introduced to the new remoteLocker outdoor, they knew they’d found their solution.
“We’ve used Bibliotheca for our self-service machines and security gates for years, so we know the reliability of the hardware and the useability of the software,” says Webb. “We figured that the people living in these remote areas may want to avoid crowds, so we decided to go with the outdoor lockers to offer privacy and space.”
Both the indoor and outdoor remoteLockers allow library patrons to pick up the library materials they’ve reserved by simply scanning their library cards. The engaging, intuitive touch screen makes it easy for patrons to get account information and can be used with Bibliotheca’s library communications solution, uniFi+, to broadcast important information and promote library events and services. remoteLockers are modular, configurable for any space, and can be expanded as library needs change. The indoor remoteLocker offers multiple locker types, including transparent lockers perfect for providing a browsable collection, while the remoteLocker outdoor features lockers that are large enough to handle a surprising array of loaned materials.
“We use the lockers to lend anything that will fit,” says Webb. “People in these remote areas often have limited internet accessibility and will borrow a batch of DVDs or a mobile hotspot and have them delivered to the lockers.”
Garland County purchased four remoteLocker outdoor solutions, each offering 47 individual lockers. In addition to the lockers installed at the general store in the tiny town of Sunshine, the library also installed lockers at the local YMCA near the medical center, in an industrial park across the street from the community college, and in the library’s parking lot.
“We’ve had several requests for after-hours pickup from patrons who work evening shifts,” says Webb. “So, the remoteLocker outside the library is much appreciated and heavily used. It’s beginning to replace curbside pickup even during library hours and may be the default for curbside service next year.”
The response to the remoteLockers has been unanimously positive. Filling the lockers gets staff out into the community to interact with patrons they don’t typically see, and the brightly wrapped lockers not only provide much-needed access but also drive awareness of the library.
“All of the lockers are heavily used,” says Webb. “But if we are looking at usage compared to the population of the area, the rural Sunshine location is probably beating them all.”
remoteLockers are just one more way that Garland County Public Library is implementing nontraditional methods to serve the needs of the community at large. They are investigating using drones to deliver library materials to the most remote, hard-to-reach residents. For those nearer to town, the library has opened a community garden in an adjacent lot. It offers 42 raised beds which patrons can check out, plant, and tend.
“We realized that even though Arkansas is an agricultural state, many city residents, especially kids, don’t really understand where their food comes from and how it gets to the table,” says Webb. “So, as an institution dedicated to learning, we saw the need for some interactive programming! We are always open to looking at nontraditional methods to serve our community – that’s one of the things that makes our library special.”