Gwinnett County Public Library: Expanding access with open+
open+ by bibliotheca is a comprehensive solution that provides more convenient access for users, more flexibility for library staff and more opportunities for community impact. With the addition of open+ by bibliotheca, libraries can attract new users and provide patrons with library access at more convenient times. This solution allows libraries to expand access to materials, spaces and self-service resources in addition to existing staffed open hours.
Gwinnett County: committed to access and innovation
bibliotheca first installed the open+ solution in Denmark in 2007 and has continued to evolve the solution over the past 10 years. There are currently over 500 libraries worldwide providing additional open hours with open+, but until recently, the solution was not available in North America.
Gwinnett County Public Library, a 15-branch library system located just north of Atlanta, was thrilled to be the first North American library system to extend their hours with the use of open+. In June 2016, Gwinnett County signed on to pilot the program at its Lawrenceville branch.
“Our focus at Gwinnett has always been access,” says Charles Pace, Executive Director. “The taxpayers have paid for these buildings, they’ve paid for these collections and resources, and we feel they should be allowed to use them to the greatest extent they possibly can. We see open+ as a way to further that goal.”
First steps: morning access
Gwinnett County began by offering extended morning hours in its Lawrenceville branch. All branches in the system open at 10 a.m. Monday – Saturday and at noon on Sundays. open+ allowed Lawrenceville to be accessible to patrons at 8 a.m. seven days a week – a 27% increase in operating hours.
“We started with morning access because we already had staff in the building at that time. The staff was not out on the floor, but just having someone present relieved our concerns as we tested out the system,” says Pace.
Initial jitters aside, Lawrenceville hasn’t experienced a single incident with open+ since implementation. In fact, it’s been so successful that Gwinnett County has decided to offer extended evening hours at the branch as well. Evening open+ hours began on October 30th. Through open+, the branch is now accessible to patrons from 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., seven days a week.
A complement to staffed hours, not a replacement
“Ideally, we’d have staff at the libraries 24 hours a day,” says Pace. “But that’s not practical, and it’s not cost-effective. The goal of our open+ initiative is not to replace staff; the goal is to provide additional access above and beyond what we’d otherwise be able to do.”
Some patrons are unable to get to a library during standard hours and find themselves in need of materials or computer access after the library has closed. open+ enables libraries to meet patrons’ self-service needs at a time most convenient for them. The solution allows libraries to control computers, self-service kiosks, lights, and security systems remotely – providing access while maintaining safety.
open+ integrates seamlessly with existing ILS, self-service and security solutions and can be modified to suit any library, regardless of size or location. Using the system, libraries can easily configure open hours, monitor activity, and customize PA announcements for users.
Gwinnett’s open+ initiative has allowed the Lawrenceville branch to more than double the hours that are available to patrons without reducing the time staff has to dedicate to outreach and programming, a major mission of the system. So far, nearly 400 patrons have registered for open+, and the library hosts an average of 100 visits per month. Pace expects that number to rise dramatically with the addition of evening open+ hours.
Recession proofing library access
Everyone remembers the massive economic downturn that began in 2008. Libraries across the country were particularly hit hard as budget cuts mandated reducing staff and library hours. Even today, many libraries are struggling to operate on budgets far less than those they enjoyed 10 years ago.
Pace sees open+ as a way for libraries to hedge against the possibility of another such economic shock. “We hope never to have another Great Recession or big downturn, but in the event that we did, open+ allows the ability to at least maintain access to collections.”
Expanding access with open+
In addition to the expanded evening hours added last month at Lawrenceville, Gwinnett County is looking to install open+ at its Suwanee branch. “We are in the early days yet,” says Pace, “but we hope to eventually expand open+ to the entire Gwinnett County Public Library system.”
Gwinnett County is the first North American library system to implement open+ but other US libraries such as Hennepin County and Ventura County are not far behind. To these and other libraries, Pace offers this advice, “If you’re looking to expand access to your collection, open+ is an excellent way to do it. I’d recommend you give it a try – our patrons call it VIP service.”