Saving Lincolnshire libraries with technology

Bibliotheca has been providing library technology, consultation and support services for more than 10 years to over 1,500 libraries in the UK, and 4,000 libraries globally.

Technology is an enabler for change, whether this is natural change based on social innovation and the evolving needs of the community, or change enforced by economic factors. Technology is not a replacement for our librarians; it should be seen to coexist, operating alongside to support the resources available to provide a continuous and sustainable quality public service.

Times of austerity offer the opportunity or catalyst to adapt and evolve our library services to address the financial pressures, but most importantly innovate to avoid withdrawal or compromise to the service.

The proposals Bibliotheca have submitted for consideration are about innovating the libraries. Cuts to local authority budgets would mean consequently that services will be reduced to save money unless technology can support the restructure to maintain and even enhance the service flexibility, choice and accessibility. The local council wants to deliver a quality service within the new budget which Bibliotheca have offered to partner with — either as a technology provider or inclusive of the management and support services.

This is technology to enable council plans or the addition of management and services to ensure maximum benefit generation from technology, its adoption and the customer experience. Innovation would be a continuous process to allow LCC libraries to offer showcase libraries long into the future.

The number of people visiting our libraries is falling. Bibliotheca propose to reverse this, and recognises the changing relationship between the public and the services they use and when they want to access them. Two Bibliotheca technology examples in the proposal are self-service and smartbranch.

LCC already has 60 self-service kiosks, but by extending this we are able to free up current staff from item check out and returns and reallocate their time to delivering other frontline services or maintaining open hours. Self-service can also offer other council non-library services such as local bills payment rather than going to council offices. Next year, self-service features will be extended to access other local information and services. The concept is a one-stop shop, a convenient hub of the community where all services are brought to the doorstep of the users within the library.

Bibliotheca have also proposed an open library concept which allows user access to the library building, books, PCs and other services out of hours. This is controlled access for genuine library users only and remote management of lights, alarms, PCs, kiosks and security with audible communication with patrons. If a lack of library funding means we can’t resource a library then Bibliotheca can automate it rather than close it.

A closed library and an automated library have the same levels of staffing costs but the latter can open seven days a week. A library run by volunteers may open a few hours a week. The same community of volunteers can open the library for these hours but have the support of the “Smartbranch” technology, so there are manned and automated opening hours and patrons can choose when they visit the library to fit their lifestyle and requirements.

Budget cuts are going to happen, but cuts to budgets do not need to mean cuts to the availability and access to our library services. Make Lincolnshire libraries relevant, accessible and innovative.