National Association of Counties
Washington, D.C.

 Libraries develop novel ideas for reaching customers

By Charlie Ban


Libraries.pngPhoto courtesy of the Contra Costa County Library
Contra Costa County, Calif. residents try out two of the county library’s innovations that bring its resources out of its buildings: an automated book vending machine and QR codes that, when scanned by a smartphone, let a user access the county’s mobile website, including a selection of downloadable digital books and audiobooks.

It makes sense that libraries, the vault of knowledge and information, also serve as incubators for creative ideas for how their resources can be shared.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services honors 10 libraries and museums annually with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, and the two county libraries recognized demonstrate creative approaches to offering their services.

For the Contra Costa County Library in California, getting the library’s resources to residents meant thinking outside of the building. The county, east of San Francisco, has a large number of commuters who wind up unable to reach the library during its operating hours, which are shrinking anyway thanks to budget pressures.

“We ended up being unable to serve much of our population, so we had to figure out how to extend service delivery without decreasing the services we offered,” said Cathy Sanford, the deputy county librarian. “We had to reach out to them since they couldn’t get to us.”

They developed what Sanford calls the “Go suite,” three ways residents could use the library without visiting the library. The library departed from convention in developing these programs.

“We wanted to be in a position to tell software developers what we wanted to do, not the other way around,” she said. “And then we had technology we could share with other libraries.”

The library buys bus advertisements that feature QR codes which, when scanned by a smartphone, allow commuters to access the library’s collection of audio books for download. Its name — “Snap and Go.”

“People want instant access, and we can give it to them on the bus,” Sanford said. “We try to focus on getting services to people wherever they are.”

“Discover and Go,” takes library patrons beyond books and opens doors to cultural experiences with more than 40 partners in the San Francisco Bay area. This online tool allows users to make reservations for tickets at museums, zoos and arts venues ranging from the Charles M. Shultz Museum to the Golden State Model Railroad Museum.

Since the program debuted in January 2011, more than 100,000 passes have been distributed, and the library is hoping to extend its network into southern California.

Bullet Click here for more information on Library a Go Go

Bullet Click here for more information on Snap and Go

Another innovation is Library-a-Go-Go machines, which dispense and accept returned library books, similar to Redbox DVD machines. Each machine can hold approximately 400 books and are available in two transit centers and one shopping center in a part of the county without a library.

In North Carolina, the Cumberland County Library diversified beyond just books to bring its offerings to its residents. Surrounding Fayetteville, Cumberland County contains the Fort Bragg Army installation, and with it many military spouses and recent military retirees who might need help with job training or searching.

Workforce development has marked a lot of the library’s outreach efforts, which Library Director Jody Risacher said vary to suit the strengths of the job seeker.

“Not everyone learns the same way, in classes, so we offer one-on-one instruction,” she said. “We adapt to people’s needs.”

She said a pair of business partners was able to learn everything they needed to start an online craft business using information and classes at the library.
Twice-yearly job fairs are also successful, with 65 of nearly 800 attendees finding jobs on the spot, according to feedback from library surveys.
On top of the library’s early literacy programs, Risacher prides her library on promoting literacy later in life, beyond when people have teachers focusing on it.

“Librari-Con,” a name created using the suffix associated with popular art conventions, such as ComiCon, brought almost 900 comic book fans to the library in September.

“Comic books are recognized more and more as literature,” Risacher said. “It brought a part of the population into the library that often drifts away for a while.”