A Self-Service Experiment

Gwinnett County Public Library tests adding hours without extra staff time

November 1, 2016

The Open+ card reader allows secure access for registered patrons. Photo: Bibliotheca

As libraries face cloudy funding forecasts and stagnant budgets, innovation and creativity become driving forces to increase a community’s access to library materials, programs, and services. With uncertainty comes an opportunity to reinvent and find new ways to serve a growing population of patrons. Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library (GCPL) used that opportunity to partner with tech company Bibliotheca and bring in a new service that allowed the system to expand hours at one location without adding staff time. GCPL Marketing and Communications Officer Clifford Ibarrondo explains how the library is using Open+.

In 2015, Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Library (GCPL) introduced a strategic plan focused on community needs, outreach, and engagement. Our primary goal was to increase community access to our resources and collections through efficient, cost-effective measures.

Earlier this year, GCPL was approached by international library technology company Bibliotheca (which has an office in nearby Norcross) to become the first library in North America to use Open+, a technology that grants customers self-service use of the library outside normal operating hours. This came at a great time for us, coinciding with a needed technology update to replace our existing self-checkout kiosks and security gates.

Open+ is a complete system that automatically controls and monitors building entry, self-service kiosks, and public-access computers. The system, which also controls the lighting, alarms, public announcements, and patron safety in the branch, has been used for several years in countries such as the UK and Denmark. It seemed like the perfect fit for our needs as we aim to expand access within the restraints of our current staffing level.

Our pilot program began June 20 at GCPL’s Lawrenceville headquarters branch, where administrative staff could keep a close eye on the implementation. For this phase, we decided that customers 18 years of age or older who hold a library card in good standing could register for Open+ at any of GCPL’s 15 branches for a one-time fee of $5 and access the Lawrence-ville branch 8–10 a.m., two hours before regular operating hours, Monday–Friday.

A dozen security cameras were installed throughout the interior and exterior of the branch, along with a card reader for patrons to scan and gain entry. Lighting and security systems were wired to our existing network. While no staff members are on the branch floor during Open+ hours, they are in the building and frequently monitor the camera screen. If a patron tries to leave with a book or other material that hasn’t been checked out, the security gates will sound, triggering the camera system to take several still photographs. A landline phone is available on the branch floor for emergencies.

The most common uses of Open+ include casual reading and browsing, picking up holds, and using computers.

Staffers have participated in each phase of the system from installation to implementation and have been receptive to Open+, though seeing customers walking around the branch during the preopening routine has taken some getting used to.

And patrons have definitely responded. Wendy Phraner took to Twitter to share her excitement: “I’m proud to say I was the first patron to try Open+ today, and I LOVED it! Thank you GCPL!”

The service has become popular among many customers from the system’s 14 other branch locations. Of 112 active users, 77 have registered from a non–Lawrenceville branch. We didn’t anticipate having such a distribution of users spread across the county, but many GCPL patrons do use multiple branches.

While GCPL enjoys high attendance through traditional programs, workshops, and librarian services, the most common uses of Open+ include casual reading and browsing, picking up holds, and using computers. The branch can also be used by small groups on a first-come, first-served basis for meetings, presentations, and study groups during this time.

Most patron feedback includes requests to expand Open+ to other branches. While we currently have no plans to expand, Open+ will become available at Lawrenceville on Sundays prior to opening to alleviate foot traffic during one of the system’s busiest mornings.
Another bonus of having an automated system that controls opening and closing the branch is that it allows library administration to easily test different times in the future to best accommodate the community’s needs.

Expanding access to the library starts with providing the community with greater choice and flexibility. Open+ complements our staffed opening hours and allows GCPL to meet the needs of the whole community when they need resources the most.


Bernard F. Reilly Jr.

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