The Public Libraries Hamburg are relying on open+ at more and more locations
In December 2014, the Public Libraries Hamburg, called Bücherhallen Hamburg, became the first German library to adopt the open library concept by going live with flexible opening hours in the Public Library Finkenwerder. Since that time, the library has offered access to library customers not only during regular hours, but also during extended unstaffed hours as well. Several European countries have been relying on the open+ solution for over a decade, and many now manage up to 25 percent of their libraries as open libraries. Carolin Rohrßen, Head of Organization and Computing at the Bücherhallen Hamburg, had followed the developments closely and used the success of open+ in other countries as an example of what could be possible in Germany.
“In 2014, we were the first library in Germany to introduce open+. Since then, this innovative solution has been a great additional service for the district and is well received by our customers,” she says.
Based on the success of the branch library in Finkenwerder, the Bücherhallen Hamburg decided to equip other libraries within the system with open+.
Long awaited wish of the customers
The Public Libraries Hamburg welcomes 4,8 million visitors a year, making it the Hanseatic city’s most popular cultural institution and the largest municipal library system in Germany. More than 13 million items are lent out each year. The collection contains more than 1.7 million physical items in over 30 languages as well as 98,000 digital resources. The library is equipped with state-of-the-art technology – free wireless internet, PC workstations and modern software are standard in all 33 branches. The separate group rooms are popular with learning and discussion groups. Offering over 13,000 events each year, the Bücherhallen Hamburg appeals to people across all walks of life. As a future-oriented library system and popular social hub, offering the community as much access as possible by extending opening hours makes perfect sense.
“According to a customer survey, longer and more flexible opening hours was our customer’s greatest wish,” says Carolin Rohrßen, describing the motivation to rely on open+ technology.
How does open+ work?
open+ is a comprehensive system including access terminals for entrance, loudspeakers for automated announcements, surveillance cameras for security and a library controller – the heart of the system. The controller manages the infrastructure and integrates with library technology, allowing the library systems to be controlled remotely.
During the Open Library hours, customers use their library card to enter the library. The library functions completely autonomously; all services such as borrowing and returning items at RFID selfChecks, paying fines and fees at payment stations, searching the library catalogue with account management, and browsing the Internet are available. If the library transitions to open+ mode on an hourly basis during the day, this has no effect on the customer, as the continuous operation of all self-service resources remain.
Open up to 233 percent longer
The advantages are obvious. Customers can plan their visits to the library when it is most convenient for them, and staff can devote themselves to other essential tasks during open+ hours.
The open+ technology being welcomed fast by patrons and staff was put into operation at several other locations since 2017: The libraries in Niendorf, Horn, Volksdorf, Osdorfer Born and Winterhude have been offering additional Open Library hours. In 2019 also Lokstedt and Steilshoop were happy to extend their services and benefit from more flexibility. This year and in 2022, eleven other locations will follow.
In Finkenwerder, the library, which calls itself a neighborhood library and meeting place, opens on Wednesdays and Saturdays with open+ technology. In addition, the open+ mode is active just for single hours in the morning or over lunch on two more days. The original opening hours have been extended from twelve hours to 40 hours. This corresponds to a successive increase of 233 percent since the start.
The libraries in Horn and Niendorf are located in a shopping centre. Previously, the library in Horn was open for 31 hours, but four more hours could be available by using the open+ solution. Instead of being open from 10AM to 6PM, the library is able to operate from 9AM to 8PM. In principle, the Public Libraries Hamburg aim to extend their opening hours in order to achieve coverage from Monday to Saturday from 8AM to 8PM consistently in all locations.
The situation was similar in Niendorf, where opening hours have doubled. Niendorf is the first library to open Monday to Saturday from 8AM to 8PM since April 2018. There, 36 regular hours plus 36 open+ hours are offered in order to enable seamless service even during the off-peak hours.
Targeted project management
Equipping an Open Library is a complex project and requires differentiated and professional project management. Besides installing the open+ system, new security precautions had to be taken for library rooms and furnishings. Alarm and light systems had to be programmed to turn off automatically. Furthermore, the library had to ensure that customers knew that they would be under camera surveillance while in the library during open+ hours. Clear communication is critical.
“We changed the opening hours in small steps, initially on an hourly or daily basis. Timely, open communication of the changes – both internal and external – is essential,” explains Carolin Rohrßen. The library distributed flyers and displayed posters to let customers know about the change in hours.
Inside the library, it was also important to get the employees on board. Some staff feared that moving to an open library model would result in lost jobs and reduced pay. However, open, empathetic communication and an honest look at the success that other libraries were experiencing dispelled those doubts.
“Our customers very much welcomed the additional opening hours. The number of visitors is increasingly rising,” says Carolin Rohrßen. “As an Open Library, our circulation continues to increase. In contrast to general lending trends in comparable libraries, Finkenwerder reports a significant increase thanks to the longer opening hours.”
The Public Libraries Hamburg are continuing to examine the role that open+ can play in the rest of its branches. Among other ideas, the library is considering opening to the public on Sundays. Such a step would cement the Bücherhallen Hamburgas a pioneer in German libraries.
Insights + Trends
Califa and the California State Library invites California public libraries to apply for the Libraries open+ grant.