Bill Helling: Crawfordsville District Public Library (IN)
New Library, New Technologies, New Services text

CHALLENGES 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 TOTAL
technology 2 3 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 13
new library 2 0 1 2 0 2 2 2 3 14
New Library
New Technologies
New Services

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.

Carnegie library and new Crawfordsville District Public Library

These challenges included:

  1. increased circulation
  2. more area to heat, cool, and illuminate
  3. increased demand for computer access
  4. more area in which to provide connectivity
  5. more floor space to service
  6. less chance for staff to communicate directly
  7. more information to convey to patrons
  8. a need to promote ourselves better
  9. popular but inefficient practices to upgrade
technology vs. library?

The key to success was to use technology to create services for our library.

Crawfordsville District Public LibraryCrawfordsville District Public LibraryCrawfordsville District Public 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:

  1. 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.
  2. The drop-box does not have 100% reliability rate.

Benefits of RFID:

  1. The speed and ease of transactions were enormously improved.
  2. An improved workflow freed circulation staff for better duties.
Strategies for implementation
  • Address the fears of staff members who worry about their job security if their task of check-in/check-out is reduced.
  • Perform inventory/weeding while handling each item during the conversion process to eliminate unnecessary tagging; involve staff in order to encourage staff acceptance.
  • Standardize your tagging procedure and document it to avoid having staff complete it in different manners.
  • Remember and repeat (to justify the expense): ROI

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Reaching the main panel in order to connect a computer and adjust the light schedule is physically difficult.
  3. Temperature zones span disparate areas of the library, but some areas have unique needs.

Benefits of automated HVAC and lighting:

None observed yet.

Strategies for implementation
  • Don't follow all suggestions from your vendors concerning products that they wish to use because they may not be familiar with these programs and may just be experimenting.
  • Demand more updates on the products as they are installed and training before the project is completed and the vendors lose incentive to help.
  • Insist on an easy way to override automated HVAC and lighting situations.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. More computers in more areas of the library, all of which function the same, allow us to serve more patrons in a standard way.
Strategies for implementation
  • Avoid simply adding more computers in the library without any strategy: this approach may worsen an existing problem.
  • Train more staff on computer assistance.
  • Satisfy patrons by allowing them to accomplish the same tasks at different computers throughout the library.
  • Use a product that has responsive vendor support if you are using any third-party solution in order to meet your unique needs.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. No area of the library is without network access.
  2. We don't have to worry about additional data drops or cable.
Strategies for implementation
  • Train desk staff on how to use wireless devices because they interact more frequently with patrons.
  • Create an information/troubleshooting sheet, hand it out, and post it on the web.
  • Regulate wireless access through some gateway unless you wish to offer it to anyone in the area without restriction.
  • If designing or redesigning a building, convey your wireless coverage desires to the architects before the design proceeds.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. IP phones sometimes occupy data jacks needed for other duties.

Benefits of VoIP with wireless phones:

No benefits yet felt . . . but they will come . . .

Strategies for implementation
  • Use access points that support several networks or install more access points on a separate network for the phones.
  • Force your vendors and your network technicians to actually talk in advance — don't assume that they will.
  • Make sure your network technicians realize what else you plan to do with your network and do not make it impossible for you to complete your designs without spending more money.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. Most staff members embraced IM and now exchange notes and their movements exclusively through this technology.
  2. Staff members are now willing to consider IM Reference.
Strategies for implementation
  • Start with more experienced and adventurous librarians to inspire the others — seeing this activity is more convincing than hearing about it.
  • Keep the IM interface simple for new users.
  • Set up the IM accounts for the staff to ensure that they are created and created consistently.
  • Practice in small sessions and discuss the process in real time.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. We no longer need to manually compile lists of new items because the catalog handles this function.
  2. The introduction of RSS has allowed us to make progress with the technological level and expectations of our staff and patrons.
Strategies for implementation
  • Publicize your feeds or few people will find them.
  • Link to your own explanation of RSS or to another next to your feeds.
  • Prepare staff to handle questions on this technology.
  • Consider taking the next step: blogging.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. We inform patrons more about our library than ever before.
  2. We are offering a new service before it is demanded of us.
Strategies for implementation
  • Research what others have done and build on their experiences — the practice is still evolving.
  • Consider blog needs carefully before deciding on how to blog and on your blogging set up. Will you be able to host and run your own blog software or will you need a hosted service?
  • Research all the blogging options (comment, trackback, new window, etc.) before deciding on your software.

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:

  1. 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:

  1. Unlike our phone-based Dial-a-Tale, more than one user at a time can listen or download, and older stories do not disappear.
  2. We don't depend on a third-party vendor for this service.
  3. We can truly say that we offer a traditional service in a modern manner that will become more popular with time.
Strategies for implementation
  • Staff and public education in this technology is essential for an area that is unaware of podcasting.
  • Consider storage demands if keeping an archive of podcasts.
  • Consider involving the public in podcasting.

Within a few weeks after we moved into our new building, we were managing (or trying to manage) several new technologies.

RFID tag HVAC control computer wireless icon wireless phone Yahoo! Instant Messenger rss icon podcast icon

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 . . .

new library entrance, August 2005

. . . but you always get the last turn.

new library entrance, February 2006