The new Crawfordsville District Public Library opened in October 2005, leaving the Carnegie building it had occupied for more than a century.
Because we were not permanently increasing our budget or hiring more staff, we knew that we would face certain challenges.
These challenges included:
- increased circulation
- more area to heat, cool, and illuminate
- increased demand for computer access
- more area in which to provide connectivity
- more floor space to service
- less chance for staff to communicate directly
- more information to convey to patrons
- a need to promote ourselves better
- popular but inefficient practices to upgrade
technology vs. library?
The key to success was to use technology to create services for our library.
How could we handle increased circulation?
Our barcode-based process for check-out and check-in was labor intensive.
Eighty percent of a circulation staff member's day was absorbed in this task.
The work was monotonous and caused repetitive stress injuries.
The staff could barely keep up with shelving and inventory.
Problems with RFID:
- The portable wand is affected by metal bookshelves: the read rate is not good unless we physically move items out from the shelves a few inches.
- The drop-box does not have 100% reliability rate.
Benefits of RFID:
- The speed and ease of transactions were enormously improved.
- An improved workflow freed circulation staff for better duties.
How could we provide comfort in a larger building?
We had to consider an increased need for patron well-being because we could no longer observe directly all our space.
We needed to automate the regulation of heating, cooling, and lights for patron as well as staff convenience.
Problems with automated HVAC and lighting:
- Creating a light schedule for special days takes much planning; turning lights on or off against the schedule is labor intensive and often involves a visit to three different panels on three different floors.
- Reaching the main panel in order to connect a computer and adjust the light schedule is physically difficult.
- Temperature zones span disparate areas of the library, but some areas have unique needs.
Benefits of automated HVAC and lighting:
None observed yet.
How could we meet the demand for computer access?
In our previous library we had few patron computers, many of different types. Each patron had to sign up on paper, and the security software did not allow them to do anything other than routine work.
Because the computers were concentrated in the Reference area, this staff was often inconvenienced.
Problems with consistently managed computers:
- Because we allow patrons to do more with the computers and to do it in more places, our staff is now more involved managing computer problems and answering the questions; much of the staff can't provide technical help for patrons who wish to save to disk or flash drive, burn a CD, and so on.
Benefits of consistently managed computers:
- More computers in more areas of the library, all of which function the same, allow us to serve more patrons in a standard way.
How could we offer network access everywhere?
Internet or network access for us formerly depended on immobile stations, but patrons as well as staff need library-wide access to resources.
Populating the walls and columns of the new library with excessive data drops for extra connectivity was unacceptable.
Problems with wireless access:
- Staff members get questions they can't answer, and patrons they can't help, which leads to frustration on both sides. Patrons have technical, privacy, and security concerns that some staff members simply can't address.
Benefits of wireless access:
- No area of the library is without network access.
- We don't have to worry about additional data drops or cable.
How could we cover our additional floor space?
We retained the traditional service desks after our move, but not all duties were able to be performed while immobile at a desk. Staff members needed to wander farther from the service desks while still being reachable.
Mobile phones had a limited range and were tied to their own base.
Problems with VoIP with wireless phones:
- Quality of service could not be maintained when running wireless phones over our existing network. Our public and private networks are running at the same time on access points that will not support several networks.
- IP phones sometimes occupy data jacks needed for other duties.
Benefits of VoIP with wireless phones:
No benefits yet felt . . . but they will come . . .
How could we get staff to communicate more efficiently?
Scribbled notes left in various places, and library staff wandering around looking for colleagues, would not work as well in a building three times as large as the one we left.
We were going from a compact, 10,000 square foot building to a spacious, four-floor 30,000 square foot building.
Problems with Instant Messenger:
- Some staff members with just a few remaining years of service were often the most reluctant to try IM, and rarely use it. A few other staff members simply opted not to try.
Benefits of Instant Messenger:
- Most staff members embraced IM and now exchange notes and their movements exclusively through this technology.
- Staff members are now willing to consider IM Reference.
How could we keep patrons updated on new items?
For years, patrons had no easy way to discover new library items via our catalog, unless we manually composed a list.
Many patrons depended on a weekly newspaper column written by a volunteer who composed a one-sentence synopsis of only a portion of our new books.
Problems with RSS feeds:
- We have no control over the catalog RSS feeds and would like to create more targeted categories. However, all changes must eventually be added by our vendor.
Benefits of RSS feeds:
- We no longer need to manually compile lists of new items because the catalog handles this function.
- The introduction of RSS has allowed us to make progress with the technological level and expectations of our staff and patrons.
How could we promote ourselves better?
A new library is an expensive and often controversial project.
We never attempted to sell ourselves before, but we realized that we need to make ourselves more visible and accessible to a public that suffered the expense and inconvenience of this change.
Problems with Blogging with RSS feeds:
- Blogging is not part of our local vocabulary, and the education of staff and patrons is a major task and time investment for unknown returns.
Benefits of Blogging with RSS feeds:
- We inform patrons more about our library than ever before.
- We are offering a new service before it is demanded of us.
How could we improve some traditional services?
We were often a tradition-bound institution that would not try to improve any "satisfactory" library process.
Example: a popular Dial-a-Tale service, where young patrons could phone and listen to a recorded story. Often troubled by technological difficulties. Limited to one listener and one story at a time. Not archived.
Problems with podcasting:
- We realized that podcasting is not in high demand in our area and that we would have to work hard on preparing the podcasts as well as publicizing them if our effort was going to be worth the trouble and time investment.
Benefits of podcasting:
- Unlike our phone-based Dial-a-Tale, more than one user at a time can listen or download, and older stories do not disappear.
- We don't depend on a third-party vendor for this service.
- We can truly say that we offer a traditional service in a modern manner that will become more popular with time.
Within a few weeks after we moved into our new building, we were managing (or trying to manage) several new technologies.
Any effort we make to integrate technology into our library to address basic challenges can lead to new services that satisfy both our staff and patrons.
Technology plays hard and relentlessly . . .
. . . but you always get the last turn.