Extending library access and convenience by delivering hold materials to lockers in rural locations
Summit County, on the northeastern border of Utah, is home to just over 36,000 people. Though Park City is a popular tourist destination and home to the iconic Sundance Film Festival, much of Summit County is mountainous, rural, and sparsely populated. The Summit County Library operates three full-service branches, a bookmobile, and most recently, a convenient 24/7 library holds pick-up and return location.
Summit County Library
Summit County Library has been bringing library services to patrons since the mid-1970s when it began with just a single bookmobile. By the mid-1990s Summit County had three library branches, but it took one move and two new buildings to bring the library system to where it is today.
Dan Compton, Director of the Summit County Library, has been around for most of that growth. “I began as a part-time library clerk in 2005. At that time, the Kimball Junction Branch was still new. From 1991-2001 the community had access to a Reading Room which contained a collection of 2,500 books. Today, it is the largest of the Summit County branches,” he says.
Even with new libraries and extended services, Summit County struggled to reach everyone. Though the western part of the county, near Park City, is rather urban, other areas are rural and remote. The town of Henefer, which borders Morgan County, is home to just 870 people. The closest Summit County Library branch, Coalville, is more than 10 miles away. To make matters worse, many in Henefer drive 10 miles in the other direction to grocery shop or run errands, making a trip to the Coalville library even more inconvenient. The Summit County bookmobile does travel to Henefer every two weeks, but Compton was determined to do more for the town.
When Compton discovered bibliotheca’s remoteLocker at the 2017 ALA conference, he knew he’d found a solution. Requiring only shelter, electricity, and an Internet connection, the remoteLocker solution is ideal for libraries who want to extend library holds pick-up to more convenient locations within the community, ensuring users aren’t required to visit a traditional branch. By selecting an economical and modular solution, the remoteLocker can easily expand over time, as the service grows and increases in popularity.
“I often leave those conferences thinking, ‘That would be nice, but there’s no way we’ll ever be able to afford that,'” he says. “But I left the 2017 ALA conference with confidence that I’d found the perfect remote holds pick-up and return solution for the small town of Henefer. I took a chance, presented it to the town council, and they were immediately very interested.”
A Model Application
Determined to provide Henefer residents with more convenient library service and more access to library materials, Compton applied for an LSTA grant to purchase a remoteLocker. The Library Services and Technology Act, a federal program administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through state libraries, provides grants for innovative approaches for delivering library services and equitable access.
The grant process is competitive, but not only did Compton win a grant, his application is now used as a model example of exactly how to apply for these state-matched federal dollars. Compton attributes that success, in large part, to the enthusiastic support he received from the Henefer town council. “A big question was where we would put the remoteLocker if we were able to get one. There is a small convenience store in Henefer, and I assumed it would be our only option. However, the town council was so enthusiastic about the project that they offered to donate space in a town building right in the middle of a local park. That strong partnership made all the difference.”
A Creative Solution Leads to VIP Service
The town of Henefer remodeled a storage area in the park building to accommodate the remoteLocker. Easily assessable and popular with the community, the park is a perfect location. Furthermore, hosting outdoor story time and other programming provides a convenient way to introduce the remoteLocker to those who may not yet have discovered it.
Once the location for the remoteLocker was in place, Summit County still faced a challenge – how to keep the locker and library materials secure in such a public area. The solution: they installed a commercial grade combination door at the entrance to the building.
Library users reserve materials online or by phone and have them delivered to the Henefer remoteLocker. When the items are checked into the locker by library staff, the system sends an email notification that includes the code needed to open the door. Once inside, library users open the appropriate locker by scanning their library card and following the intuitive instructions on the touchscreen display.
“If you have a code, you can access the remoteLocker 24 hours a day,” says Compton. “It’s incredible. Henefer is a town that has never had a public library, and now they have access to anything in our collection at any time. That’s more access than we can provide anywhere else in the county right now.”
Hometown Delivery and Community Appreciation
Henefer’s remoteLocker is the first of its kind in Utah. Compton says, in the beginning, he drove out to Henefer every day to make sure everything was going smoothly. Now the locker is stocked every morning by Yvonne Judd, the librarian at the Coalville Branch, who happens to live in Henefer.
All the remoteLocker holds are delivered to the Coalville branch. Every evening, Judd loads up the materials destined for Henefer and puts them in the appropriate lockers on her way into work in the morning. If the items requested are on the shelf in a Summit County Library branch, they can usually be delivered to the remoteLocker within 24-48 hours.
Henefer has an 18-locker solution, and Compton says each locker can easily fit 5-10 items. In the first few months, the remoteLocker averaged 70 checkouts per month, but Compton anticipates increased use as word about the solution spreads. remoteLockers are fully modular, so another tower can be added at any time as a library’s needs grow. As the community of Henefer utilizes the remote holds pick-up point more, Summit County has the option to extend the solution with transparent lockers that create a simplistic, easy-to-maintain library vending style solution, allowing users to serendipitously find another interesting title to read.
“Our motivation for putting the remoteLocker out there was to make a better connection with the community of Henefer,” says Compton. The investment has paid off, as evidenced by quotes from a recent community survey.
Compton is pleased, but he isn’t surprised. “The remoteLockers are so great. I want to put them everywhere now!” he says.
In the meantime, Compton will be sharing Summit County’s success with the remoteLocker solution during his presentation at the Utah Library Association conference in May. “The community, the mayor and the town council really appreciate this innovative, out-of-the-box approach to delivering library materials to Henefer. It’s improved the relationship between the county and town. This solution would benefit a lot of other rural communities. I’m hopeful that others will see this as a template that they can follow in their own communities.”
Summit County recently eliminated overdue fines, further reducing barriers for library users. To advance that mission, Compton already has his eye on a bid for another LSTA grant – this time to provide extended hours and access to Summit’s full-service branches with bibliotheca’s open+ solution.