Integrating the Physical and Digital Library Experience with cloudLibrary
The Sioux Center Public Library (SCPL) in northwestern Iowa serves a population of 7,500 from one beautiful library branch on Main Street. The library, heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School design, offers a large physical collection, meeting rooms, a computer lab, art gallery, and rental space. SCPL also offers a large digital material collection, and in December of 2018, became the first library in Iowa to provide its patrons with the revolutionary cloudLibrary app, featuring mobile checkout and full integration of the physical and digital library experience.
Celebrating a rise from the ashes
The Sioux Center Public Library was established in 1927 and moved around the city until 1969 when a dedicated library building was constructed. By 2003, the library’s circulation and the town’s growing population demanded larger facilities. However, before plans could be made to enlarge the space, the entire library was destroyed by arson in July of 2003.
Undeterred, the library salvaged what little it could, and constructed a beautiful new 20,000 sq. ft. building. The library moved into its new home in August of 2008.
Ten years later, the community still refers to the building as the “new library.” Though it may not be new by construction standards, SCPL is certainly a modern, forward-looking lynch-pin of the Sioux Center community. In December of 2018, a year which saw the circulation of over 300,000 items, the library celebrated its tenth anniversary in its new home by becoming one of the first libraries in the country to launch bibliotheca’s new cloudLibrary app.
Moving beyond eBooks to provide a fully integrated digital and physical library experience
SCPL began offering the original cloudLibrary eBook and eAudio platform to patrons in 2013, and it quickly became the preferred platform for Sioux Center’s library users.
“From the very beginning, I have told so many other librarians that cloudLibrary is probably the easiest app ever invented to download and read eBooks and listen to audiobooks. I really can’t stress it enough. Once we get a patron going, they love it. We offer many different digital platforms, but cloudLibrary is one of the most used,” says Becky Bilby, Director of Sioux Center Public Library.
SCPL maintains their own digital content, but they also have access to hundreds of additional titles through their cloudLink partnership with Cedar Rapids Public Library. cloudLink allows participating libraries to share unused digital titles while still prioritizing access to their collection for their own users.
“I’d encourage every cloudLibrary customer to look into cloudLink,” says Ruth Mahaffy, Technical Services Librarian. “It has greatly increased our collection size and resulted in shorter wait times for our patrons for the most popular titles. cloudLink helps us leverage our collection budget and provide the greatest number of books possible to our community members at a reasonable price for the library.”
Given Sioux Center’s existing success with cloudLibrary, when bibliotheca approached Bilby about beta testing new modules intended to expand the service of the app beyond digital lending, she was immediately game to give it a go.
“Why wouldn’t we try it?” she asks. “It’s great. It improves the library experience for our customers which is what we’re always striving to do, so we dove right in.”
In addition to the updated cloudLibrary content module, the library added cloudLibrary assist and cloudLibrary checkout.
cloudLibrary assist offers several new features designed to make library visits as easy and engaging as possible. The module not only provides patrons with a virtual library card but also acts as a virtual wallet for the cards of the entire family – no more forgotten library cards. Users can switch between accounts at the touch of a button, no frustrating separate log-ins required. Using the app, patrons can see their lending history, sort and favorite items, and monitor due dates – even renew items if necessary.
Not only do patrons appreciate these features, but Bilby says it also saves library staff time.
“The renewal feature is huge. We don’t have nearly the number of phone calls from patrons looking to renew items as we had before the app. Our customers don’t need staff to pull up their account information when they come in without their physical card, either. They simply pull out their phone and staff can scan their card from the app,” she says.
The Sioux Center Public Library serves a lot of young families – the median age of the town is early 30s – and cloudLibrary’s book bag feature is particularly popular with these customers.
“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about how easy it is for parents to collect materials to return to the library using the book bag checklist. They just fill the virtual bag, checking off items as they load them up. They can see what they’re missing before they head out to the library, which saves them time and frustration,” says Bilby.
cloudLibrary checkout: self-service in the palm of your hand
The cloudLibrary assist module makes managing library cards and materials fun and easy, and the available checkout module means borrowing those items is more convenient than ever before.
Using cloudLibrary checkout, patrons can borrow materials from within the stacks by merely scanning the item’s barcode with their smartphone.
“As our community changes and technology changes, people’s expectations change, and libraries need to adapt to the changing environment. Adding the new cloudLibrary features, is one way our library has been responding to these changes in order to better serve our community members,” says Mahaffy. “Patrons are looking for convenience and ease of use in terms of interacting with library services, and that’s what these new features provide. cloudLibrary checkout gives our patrons choices. Some may still prefer to check out at selfCheck or the desk, but others would rather just use their phone. Having options is empowering.”
One app, many functions
Though cloudLibrary content, cloudLibrary assist, and cloudLibrary checkout are three separate modules that libraries can select individually, the user experience is one cohesive whole, regardless of whether a library chooses just one module or all three.
“The cloudLibrary app provides one clean, easy to use interface for our patrons to accomplish a lot of different tasks. Whether it’s checking out physical books through the mobile checkout, or downloading eBooks or eAudio or simply seeing what they have, when it’s due and renewing items, everything is simple and intuitive. The convenience of having all of those features within one app is huge for our customers, and by being convenient and easy to use for our customers it also reduces the load on staff in terms of needing to troubleshoot issues,” says Mahaffy.
No matter which features a library chooses to implement, notifications, library messages, and event integration are always available in the cloudLibrary app. To publicize the launch of the new features and the library’s anniversary celebration, Sioux Center began sending messages through the app to customers who were already using cloudLibrary for content in November.
“We like the ability to create personalized notifications and send a message to all of our users from within the app. It makes it easy to reach people, and the message is there for users every time they open the app,” says Bilby.
Service + support, now and into the future
Beta testing a new product isn’t always a smooth process, but Bilby says the experience was painless for SCPL.
“The cloudLibrary team is fabulous. You ask a question; you get an answer. They were wonderful to work with – very responsive, very supportive, and they gave us great ideas. We felt like they were behind us 100% to help us make this successful.”
Sioux Center recently completed a community survey to help guide the direction of the library going forward. According to the respondents, the new cloudLibrary app and modules are a hit. Patrons love the virtual library cards, being able to manage loans without logging into the library’s catalog, and the ability to borrow and download digital titles from the very same app they use to manage the rest of their library activities.
Based on feedback, SCPL is now looking at further ways to meet community needs by creating more play space for children, more study space, and expanded program offerings.