Forming the right partnerships to provide more convenient library access
Published: April 2018
Libraries must be innovative when it comes to making lemonade out of lemons – or just doing more with less. That’s just what Brad Allen, Executive Director of Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, Kansas, did when he and his staff chose the Bibliotheca remoteLocker to create a convenient materials pick-up location at a local grocery store.
During a renovation in 2014, Allen learned that a planned drive-through materials pick-up at the back of the new library building was not feasible. Then another company was chosen to provide a pick-up solution, but it went out of business. This prompted Allen to start looking at different unstaffed materials pick-up options.
Ultimately, Lawrence Public Library chose to install a Bibliotheca remoteLocker at a Hy-Vee grocery store on the West side of town in the fall of 2016, allowing patrons to pick up materials where they shop. It’s also convenient for patrons who can’t make it to the library during standard hours.
The Library already had a bookdrop at that Hy-Vee location that was heavily used. “We decided that would be the best place to experiment with remoteLockers,” Allen says. Although remoteLockers were new to Lawrence Public Library, Bibliotheca has offered the solution since 2012, making it a robust and time-tested way for libraries to extend their hours and reach within the community.
“We see remoteLockers as a good opportunity to get materials out closer to people where they live,” Allen says.
Reaching more patrons and being more accessible was Lawrence Public Library’s goal for its recent renovation. The original library building was built in 1972, and it was due for some updating. After extensive renovations, the library reopened in the summer of 2014 with the Bibliotheca RFID suite, including selfCheck kiosks, RFID gates and staff stations. The renovated library had everything Lawrence Public Library had planned for – except the materials pick-up window.
Hy-Vee had been supportive of the library materials drop box, so when Allen discussed the idea of a remoteLocker there, the store management was on board. The remoteLocker was installed in the less busy entrance to the grocery store.
Heather Kearns, Marketing Coordinator for Lawrence Public Library, says that getting the remoteLocker proper network connections required coordination. “It took a while to coordinate the VPN so we’d have a reliable connection. That delayed our implementation,” Kearns says. Her advice? Block out some time with your IT staff, so they have time to resolve issues and get to know the equipment.
A Classy Wrap
A custom vinyl wrap designed to make the remoteLocker look like a card catalogue was made by local sign shop Lawrence Sign Up. Kearns says that the library staff pondered several wrap ideas. “I think at one point Brad said something about having it look like a cabinet of curiosities, since it’s going to have such a broad amount of varying content within it,” Kearns says.
The card catalogue idea was ultimately chosen because it has a direct connection to the library. It shows how Lawrence Public Library is embracing technology, bringing the library into the future, and supporting patrons, whether they are in the library or on the go.
“This is a college town,” Kearns says. The students here are into retro clothing, retro music, retro everything, she says. “We thought the card catalogue look would be a good fit,” she says.
Working with a trusted signage partner was key to getting the custom vinyl wrap right, Kearns says. Lawrence Sign Up has previously done work for the library. Kearns went back and forth with Sign Up on the details for the wrap, and the company did research and testing on the best adhesive to use with the remoteLocker. This resulted in a beautiful, durable custom wrap that will last for years.
Grab Some Groceries – and Your Books
remoteLockers are easy to use. The modular locker system features a patron interface with a touchscreen with text and animation prompts that show patrons exactly how to retrieve materials. Patrons simply reserve their books, CDs or DVDs online, and then they receive an email notifying them when the materials are available. To pick up, patrons simply scan their card, enter their PIN number, and a locker holding their materials unlocks and opens.
The library staff stocks the remoteLocker at least once each day. When a patron opens Lawrence Public Library remoteLocker to retrieve their materials, a sign visible on the inside of the locker door notifies patrons that the materials are now checked out, ensuring patrons know they are responsible for their books once the locker is opened. If a patron no longer wants the materials, they can use the library drop box that is located outside the Hy-Vee to return them.
The remoteLocker at the Hy-Vee was launched during National Library Week in April 2017, and the patron reaction was very positive. Allen reports that the social media response was good with hundreds of thank-yous, likes and views on Lawrence Public Library’s social media channels.
Lawrence Public Library received a grant from US Bank Foundation to defray the costs of the remoteLocker. Kathleen Morgan, Development and Strategic Partnerships Director at Lawrence Public Library, floated the idea of getting support for a materials pick-up kiosk to one of the library’s board members who worked at US Bank. It was that connection that allowed Lawrence Public library to begin its partnership with the bank. “Reach out to partners that you already have a really good, strong existing relationship with, and then go from there,” Kearns suggests.
The success of the remoteLocker at the Hy-Vee means that Lawrence Public Library is looking to place more in the community. Partnering with community businesses is one way they hope to do this.
“Ideally, the library would like to add five or six more remoteLockers in the Lawrence area,” Allen says.
Advice for Other Libraries
When it comes to implementing the remoteLocker – or any technology that will be off-site – “I highly recommend doing a soft opening,” Allen says. Starting two weeks before the grand opening of the remoteLocker solution, customers checking out books on the library website could choose the remoteLocker in the Hy-Vee as a pick-up location. This gave Lawrence Public Library time to do live testing and trouble-shoot any issues. The soft opening provided the staff with peace of mind, and the grand opening of the remoteLocker was a big success.
One challenge was setting up a VPN to allow remote management of the lockers. Library technology staff experienced issues with the networking set up and then establishing a stable connection to the lockers. It took some time to work out kinks and ensure a stable experience.
Kearns says libraries need to be prepared for patrons to get really excited about a remote pick-up option. After the grand opening, so many patrons chose the remoteLocker for a pick-up location that Lawrence Public Library had a backlog of items needing to go to the remoteLocker for pick-up.
Tricia Karlin, Collection Services Manager at Lawrence Public Library, says she spoke with several other libraries before Bibliotheca was chosen for its remoteLocker solution, allowing her to see how other libraries staff remoteLocker locations and sort materials.
“Olathe Public Library has been fantastic in helping us, and we quizzed Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library as well,” Karlin says. “Libraries naturally do that, so that’s not anything all that new, but when you’re supporting a service and equipment that is not staffed, the more advice you can get from other libraries that are already successfully using it, the better.” Olathe Public Library and Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library are about 30 minutes down the road from Lawrence Public Library.
Karlin adds, “We have immediately had requests to have [remoteLockers] placed all over town. People are fired up and excited about it.”
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