They know offering innovative library services will entice more people in the door. Or let more people use the library without coming in the door.
So I offer an occasional series on creative ways librarians find to serve their public. Here are four new ideas. Maybe some library close to you offers similar services.
An automated branch library
We’ve had vending machines for ages. Banks offer ATMs. Redbox dispenses movies.
So why not have a machine to dispense library materials?
Add library services to grocery stores, gas stations, and fast food restaurants to places open for business 24/7.
The Licking County Library System in Ohio is constructing an ATM-like “branch office.” It will contain 350-400 items.
Patrons will be able to check out books, DVDs, and other physical materials. The machine will also allow them to download e-books, pay fines, place holds, and return books.
If someone wants an item that’s not in the machine, they can request any of the more than 8 million circulating items from the library’s catalog.
These items will be delivered there, and the patron will be notified to pick them up. At any time of the day or night.
The automated branch is being installed in a parking lot of a community college branch. It’s located in a heavily populated part of the county, where people might not be willing to drive to the main library or any of the other branches. And, of course, it will never close. People with odd schedules will appreciate that service.
Licking County’s automated branch is probably the first in Ohio, but the company that’s building it is not new. EnvisionWare introduced its machine to the Public Library Association in 2012. Two other companies had already presented similar machines two years earlier.
Nurses and library services
The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing offers a class in community health nursing.
This past academic year students spent six weeks at the Paschalville Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia as part of the coursework.
One, Melanie Mariano, had several conversations with patrons and learned that they didn’t know how to find reliable health information. She realized that other people all over the city had similar difficulties.
These are people likely to find health clinics intimidating and perhaps not very sophisticated in looking for information at all. On the other hand, people view libraries as safe havens. Why not have a nurse on the library staff to answer health questions?
Mariano competed for and won the university’s President’s Engagement Prize. The prize enabled her to approach the Free Library of Philadelphia to establish Living HEALthy: Health Expansion Across the Libraries.
It is a logical extension of basic library information services. Unusual only because a professional other than a librarian will provide the information.
This year Mariano will be working at the Central Branch. She will help patrons find information, offer tips for preventive care, and offer basic screenings. These screenings include vision, hearing, blood pressure, weight, and height. If test results are outside normal ranges, she will give the patients some basic advice.
She would like to see the program expand to other branches and have nurses from neighborhood clinics take an active part. Besides what she herself will do during the pilot program, an expanded program could offer first aid and immunizations.
Printing prosthetics at the library
Nursing advice at the library resembles the career counseling many libraries have provided for years.
But printing an arm?
More and more libraries have a 3D printer, which enables some surprising and unique innovative library services.
The Clear Lake City-County Freeman branch of the Harris County Public Library in Texas used theirs to print a prosthetic arm for a five-year-old girl.
Her parents discovered an online-community called e-NABLE, which creates free limb plans that anyone can download and print. The library branch happened to provide the closest access to 3D printing from their home.
Its Innovation Lab worked with the family and patrons who had experience with the printer. Some of them had already started exploring prosthetics. They had printed parts of a hand, but had not yet tackled such a large project. They set aside their qualms and decided to try.
From initial choice of prototype to finished product took about a month. The arm cost about $100 to make, compared to $5,000-6,000 for a professionally made one. The team donated all the time and materials, so the family paid nothing for it.
Printed prosthetics don’t last as long as professional ones, but a growing girl will soon outgrow either one. She can have a new one designed and printed as needed for the price of a pair of shoes.
Library services in virtual reality
The University of Oklahoma Library has established the Oklahoma Virtual Academic Laboratory (OVAL).
It enables classes in a variety of disciplines to add virtual reality to the curriculum.
It only requires that some kind of 3D content can be loaded onto the system.
Computer Aided Design software can create models.
Several online sites, including NASA and Smithsonian, also make them available.
For example, virtual reality allows chemistry students to look inside a molecule to see connections invisible on a regular computer screen. Architects can take virtual tours of buildings that exist only as models. Art history students can tour a distant museum if a 3D asset exists for it.
The library operates eight OVAL workstations in three different locations. They include railed chairs, leap motion controllers, and 3D mice to provide a full range of motion and interactivity.
The university’s physics department designed the chairs. Otherwise, OVAL uses off-the-shelf hardware.
The workstations cost as little as $1,500 each, so if the project remains popular with users, it will be easy to scale up. Classroom-size installations will be possible. It will also be possible to allow distance learners to take part in OVAL sessions remotely. The headsets cost about as much as an expensive textbook.
The cloud-based software is currently a functional beta build based on gaming software. Gaming used to be counted among new library services. It is becoming more and more commonplace. The workstations have a non-password-protected user and a Dropbox folder so that the public can use them.
Library sign. Some rights reserved by San Jose Public Library. Link no longer works
ATM. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Nurse and patient. Some rights reserved by MyFuture.com
3D printed hand. Photo by StarWarsRey. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons
Virtual reality gear. Public domain from Wikimedia Commons