San Diego Public Library: evolving library service and building relationships
The San Diego Public Library (SDPL), first established in 1882, now encompasses 36 branches over 342 square miles. Those branches serve 1.4 million residents with a collection size of nearly 5 million and an annual circulation of 7.7 million. Any resident of California or service member stationed in California can borrow materials from SDPL, so the library boasts 6.6 million visitors, making it the largest cultural institution in San Diego with free programming.
From 3M Library Systems to bibliotheca: the best of both worlds
In 1994, SDPL began offering self-service in its Mira Mesa branch. At that time, the library partnered with 3M Library Systems to install its very first selfCheck station. Over time, the relationship with 3M Library Systems continued, and selfChecks were installed in nearly every one of the 36 branches.
After a twenty-year relationship with 3M Library Systems, SDPL faced a difficult choice when they decided to convert their collection to RFID in 2015. The quickConnect software provided by Library Systems was intuitive, attractive, and powerful, and the long-standing relationship was a major asset. However, as the Requests for Proposals came in, it was clear that bibliotheca’s hardware was far superior. When bibliotheca and 3M Library Systems merged in 2015, the problem was solved.
“It was the perfect scenario for us,” says Misty Jones, Library Director. “It was the best of both worlds and enabled me to get everything I wanted.”
RFID conversion: three years of work in under twelve months
In 2016, San Diego Public Library began converting their entire collection to RFID. Like many Library Directors, Jones wanted to streamline the library’s service and allow staff to get out from behind the circulation desk onto the floor to interact with patrons in more engaging ways. But she also saw the conversion as a necessary part of meeting patron’s expectations for excellent service.
“People expect to have self-service available everywhere they go. If I go to a gas station and I’m not able to pay at the pump, I’ll go to a different station. Using RFID makes self-service so much quicker and easier. It’s just good customer service,” she says. Utilizing grant money in addition to budgeted funds, SDPL anticipated converting to RFID over a three-year period. However, once they began, they decided to fast-track the process and convert all branches as quickly as possible. Using rolling closures, they were able to implement RFID in all 36 locations in about a year.
Jones says, “The bibliotheca staff was phenomenal. Our account manager is so responsive and on top of it. From the top all the way down to the installers, we’ve had such a great experience with everyone. It really made the whole conversion process very, very easy and seamless.”
SDPL was lucky to have the people and resources available to undertake such a rapid implementation. Using library staff, the IT department, and bibliotheca’s consultants, each branch’s conversion was accomplished in just two weeks. Jones offers this advice to other libraries considering how to best implement RFID:
“You need to carefully consider your resources – a lot depends upon whether you have the staff to handle the tagging and conversion or whether you’re depending on an outside company to come in and do that for you. In any case, I do recommend trying to convert the whole collection in all locations as quickly as possible. It makes it so much easier, not only for staff but for patrons. When they go into any location, they know it will all follow the same process with the same equipment.”
Although SDPL had been using selfChecks since the 1990s, the challenge was convincing staff to encourage patrons to use the selfChecks as their primary way of borrowing materials. After all, if patrons were not taking advantage of the self-service option, the staff was still stuck behind the circulation desk. Some staff were reluctant to encourage patrons to use the selfChecks because they knew that patrons enjoyed the personal contact at the desk. Jones was careful to encourage staff to continue interacting with patrons, but in deeper more meaningful ways than simply scanning materials. She was sure that once users became accustomed to using self-service they’d actually prefer it to standing in line at the circulation area. So, to encourage staff to get patrons to check out their own materials, Jones began throwing pizza parties for every branch that reached 90% of loans borrowed by selfCheck.
“It really pushes each branch to get to 90% for at least one month. And what we’ve found is that once they get there, they stay there. In fact, we have one branch operating at 98% self-service. Once you introduce patrons to the selfChecks they prefer to use them because it’s just more convenient,” says Jones.
Integrating physical and digital collections with bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary After the successful RFID conversion, SDPL decided to move its digital collection from the two platforms it was using to bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary. Jones wanted to offer one, easy to use option to reduce confusion for the library’s patrons and cloudLibrary fit the bill perfectly. Not only is the app intuitive, but it also allowed SDPL to integrate its physical and digital collections by offering digital materials right at checkout on the selfChecks. Jones says another major selling point was the ability to massively expand the digital collection by teaming up with other libraries through cloudLink.
When San Diego Public Library moved to cloudLibrary, there were already three other southern California libraries participating in cloudLink. “When our account manager explained the cloudLink option, cloudLibrary became a no-brainer for me,” Jones says. “As soon as we signed up we were going to triple our collection.” cloudLink allows libraries to build and manage multiple private eBook and eAudiobook collections with ease and flexibility. It provides complete control of shared and restricted titles, enabling libraries to prioritize their titles for their own users while sharing unused titles easily. Best of all, the user experience is seamless – all available titles from all libraries appear in the app. Today, 18 different California library systems participate in cloudLink, which has expanded SDPL’s digital offerings from 13K to over 90K.
It isn’t just the expanded collection that won over Jones and the rest of SDPL; it’s the personal service. “Our cloudLibrary account manager is one of my favorite people. I’ve always felt like it wasn’t just about the sale, and it wasn’t just about getting SDPL as a customer, but it was a relationship. I feel like they have the best interest of the library in mind and are asking, ‘How can we make things easier and better for your patrons? How can we maximize your resources and help you make smart decisions?’ I’m able to call to brainstorm, and they always call to make us aware of what the future holds so we can make great decisions together,” she says.
One of those calls about new offerings came recently. Later this year, bibliotheca will be vastly expanding the capabilities of cloudLibrary by introducing cloudLibrary modules. In addition to cloudLibrary content, already available, libraries will also be able to choose two other modules – cloudLibrary assist and cloudLibrary checkout. cloudLibrary assist module extends the selfCheck experience to any user’s smartphone, providing a virtual library card, relevant reminders, and a reading history. The cloudLibrary checkout module fully integrates the digital and physical library offerings by allowing users to check out physical materials directly from their smartphone – no need to visit the selfCheck or the circulation desk. Libraries can mix and match the modules as they please. The two new modules will be available to libraries even if they choose not to use cloudLibrary to host their digital content.
Jones is excited about the new capabilities. “People are used to being able to do everything from that phone in their pocket. The more we can make the library fit with the everyday experience of people, the better service we’re providing. It’s exciting that bibliotheca is moving in that direction – really thinking about how people use technology every day, and then making products that fit that use.”
Breaking Down Barriers: the future of San Diego Public Library
Things are bustling in San Diego. The library system is replacing two branches with new buildings, and plans are underway to add a 37th branch by 2021. They recently eliminated overdue fines, reducing barriers to library use and further freeing up staff to interact with patrons on the floor. Jones anticipates that SDPL will partner with bibliotheca well into the future as they expand their libraries and library service.
“bibliotheca has the same goals I do. We’re both looking for ways to provide the very best service, looking for ways to push the envelope to make sure we’re offering the best thing for the public. That’s how you get more people using the library, by breaking down barriers, and that’s why bibliotheca is such a great partner.”
Skyline Hills customer video
The San Diego Public Library’s Skyline Hills branch had some key strategic goals: get staff out from behind the desk and interact with library users, and to make their library more accessible. Watch the video version of this customer story to see self-service and cloudLibrary in action.