When faced with the challenges of the economic downturn, the city of Livermore created a new model for library services. The result was a hybrid library branch that is the first known library of its type. This hybrid branch, the Easy Access Library, has provided residents several additional hours per year of access to library books and materials. It is a creative and fiscally responsible way of providing a service where a need still exists despite a lack of ongoing funding. This innovative service model is not only applicable in the library field, but also for other municipal services.
Livermore operates its own library system. The flagship is the Livermore Public Library Civic Center, a beautiful 53,000 square-foot library that opened in 2004. In addition to this main library, two small branches serve other areas of the city. As of 2009, the main library was open seven days per week for a total of 65 hours; the two branch libraries were open six days per week for a total of 51 hours each. In response to the economic downturn, in January 2010, staff reduced library service hours at each of the two branches to three days (23 hours) per week. Unfortunately, funding shortfalls required additional budget cuts in the fall of 2010 and as a result, staff decided that they would need to close down the smallest and oldest library in the city, the Springtown Branch Library.
This branch library was originally created from a small portable building that was formerly used as a convenience store. This portable was moved from another location and donated to the city to open as Livermore’s first branch library in 1986. Although the facility was very outdated, community members would not accept its closing and the city council requested that some library services be provided for the Springtown community. This would require creative solutions on the part of library management. Management reorganized staffing throughout the library system in order to keep the Springtown Branch Library open one day per week and also began exploring innovative methods for offering some level of service throughout the week.
The Springtown Branch Library is located in an area of the city isolated by a major freeway. This freeway creates both a physical and conceptual separation between the two areas of the city and the residents in this area historically have felt cut off from the majority of city services. Although the main library is less than four miles from the Springtown Branch Library, public transportation between the two areas is limited and there are few vehicle traffic routes across the freeway. After the reduction in library branch hours, some Springtown residents began to use the main library; however, other residents did not, due to the travel inconvenience.
Several traditional approaches to library services were explored, including service reductions at the main library and collaboration opportunities with other agencies. Since branch staffing was minimal, library management began exploring self-service technologies. In looking beyond traditional solutions, they found creative inspiration in some unusual places — the U.S. Postal Service, a video rental company, and a local health club. All of these facilities used different types of technology to provide services without the use of staff. Library management began to research the variety of self-service equipment that the library could use to offer basic services within this type of operation and ultimately created the model for a new type of hybrid library.
Library staff surveyed area residents and asked them to rank services that they would use in a self-service facility. The highest ranked services were: the ability to pick up materials transferred from the main library; to check out DVDs and books; and to return items through an automated machine.
In 2011, the library received an Innovations Grant in the amount of $63,000 from the Bay Area Library Information System to use toward the hybrid library project. The city of Livermore and the Friends of the Livermore Library then provided the remainder of the funding.
With this funding, staff created a new hybrid service space at the Springtown Branch Library. The branch was to remain open one day a week with staffing from the main library, and would be unstaffed but accessible the remainder of the week through self-service technology. The unstaffed portion of the Springtown Branch Library opened in January 2013 as the Easy Access Library.
The Easy Access Library provides access to library materials seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., through a secure keycard entry during the hours the Springtown Branch Library is unstaffed. For a nominal fee, adults holding a Livermore Public Library card may apply for an Easy Access keycard in order to utilize the extended service hours. The self-service Easy Access Library offers secured DVD lending; automated materials return; a variety of youth and adult books and magazines available with self-service checkout; and holds lockers where patrons can pick up library materials requested from the main library.
The library uses video cameras and panic buttons to ensure safety. The facility’s alarm arms and disarms automatically to ensure that people do not remain in the facility after hours. Residents who need to utilize the expertise of a librarian can continue to access the library during staffed hours. Residents who merely need routine checkout, pickup, and return services now have the flexibility to access these services seven days per week.
The innovative Easy Access Library has become a point of pride in the community. This unique hybrid library has given neighborhood residents more than 3,800 hours per year of additional access to library books and materials, and issued over 350 Easy Access Cards to residents. Residents use the service daily and express positive feedback about the convenience. Other municipalities have visited the branch to learn about this new hybrid service model.
Before the Easy Access Library opened, library materials usage at the Springtown Branch showed a steady decline of 21 percent. However, that downward trend reversed to a 1 percent increase in FY 2013-14 and continues to increase. Residents are also discovering that the Easy Access Library is the only city library open on holidays, which resulted in a 24 percent increase in materials usage in December 2014.
The ongoing costs of the Easy Access Library are minimal and mostly include equipment and facility maintenance. The cost to staff a similar level of access for a traditional library service model would be approximately $300,000 per year. Additionally, there was an initial concern among staff about the potential for theft in an unstaffed facility. Surprisingly, the Easy Access keycard has instilled a sense of ownership in the library itself. Residents proactively notify library administration upon discovering any potential issues with door or equipment malfunctions, and theft has not been an issue.
The technology in the Easy Access Library has become a point of interest for both the local and library communities. Numerous libraries and community groups have requested tours of the space and the automated technologies. The Livermore Public Library has also presented information about the Easy Access Library and its unique hybrid service approach at national and regional conferences. After seeing the presentation, several conference attendees have expressed an interest in exploring a similar service model. This new service model is not only applicable in the library field, but could be explored for other municipal services as well.