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Open + Libraries: Sharing the Library Key

As an ultimate Library Tourist and Professional Development experience this year I joined the Great Public Library Tour of Germany and Denmark after attending the 2017 World Library and Information Congress held in Poland. It was a deep learning experience as I toured libraries with 15 other library professionals from Australia and New Zealand. One of the professional affirming outcomes from the tour is that libraries, wherever they are, share similar challenges, dare to innovate and are generous in sharing their learning with their colleagues. One of the innovations that has been in place in Denmark and beginning to have effect in Germany is the Open Plus library. This innovation is in response to community needs for longer opening hours and to meet the challenge of a limited operating budget. Does this challenge sound similar? Then maybe an Open Plus library might be an option.

An “open library” is a library with a combination of hours staffed with professional librarians and hours with self-service. Jan Holmquist Global Librarian

In Dokk1 Aarhus, (and yes there will be another blog post about this amazing library) the Open Plus library concept has been implemented in the smaller branch libraries for some time. For the main Central Library in Aarhus the Open Plus hours allow the library to be opened from 7am until 10pm with staff hours 8am until 8pm. A janitor walks the floors for evacuation purposes at night when staff are not in attendance. University students are also hired as shelvers and they work at night. This is an 18,000 square metre library so is a large public space to leave unstaffed. There has been no misbehaviour of note from the community and the library has been respectfully used.

In Cologne Public Library, Germany, the Open Plus library concept has been implemented to allow the library to be open on Mondays, traditionally a day that the library has always been closed. Budget limitations meant that Mondays could not be staffed and the library team saw the Open Plus model as a way to provide an ‘open library’ with minimum budget impact. Their professionally staffed library hours are from Tuesday to Saturday are 9am — 9pm which they wanted to maintain. They do employ security guards on the Monday as a safety measure. Their first thought when launching this service was that chaos would reign — but the reality has been that the community has respected the library and taken to the new opening hours with gusto.

Still other models in Denmark in small single person staffed libraries implement the Open Plus model at the lunch break which traditionally required the library to be closed — again allowing the library to open longer within the limits of the current staffing model.

So what do you need to implement an Open Plus model?

1. Community Trust — and sometimes this will be a leap of faith for library staff and Councils. This is not about replacing library staff with a self-service machine either, this is about being able to maximise the use of a civic building and public collection, that is the local library, for respectful use by the community. You can read more about the Open Plus model and implementing it in a library service here There does need to be a balance between trust and control and this is managed in the Denmark Library Open Plus model by combining RFID technology that records when people “forget to check out an item” and video surveillance.

2. Some way to open the library door — In Denmark the Health Card or the Library Card and a pin code can be used to open the door of the library after hours. In Hamburg, in a smaller branch library users gained access to the library by inserting their library membership card into a computerised scanner in the library’s foyer. Other libraries use a pass code that is attached to your library card. Still others, like Dokk1, allow the doors to simply open.

3. Self Service — I hesitate to say only RFID technology can be used as self-service for libraries as for some very small libraries there will be other ways to implement a self-service option, such as a Library App on users phones and local iPads. For the larger branches and library services, however, for the Open Plus library model to be maximised RFID technology will enable this to be implemented seamlessly. One such system used in the United Kingdom is explained here if you are interested in exploring further.

Are there downsides? There is certainly a view in the United Kingdom that Open Plus Libraries are being used to fully replace library staff and staff-less libraries are being implemented using this technology. And this was a concern expressed at one German Library service. However, their experience is that their Council understands and supports the wide variety of work the Library service undertakes with their staff and was excited to see the extensions for their citizens. So questions to ask yourselves are: Does your Council understand that the Library Service does more than check out books? If not then there is some advocacy work to undertake so that the library staff are valued for the impact their work has in the community.

First published on PLConnect Blog on 26 October 2017

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