It is not that long ago that digital innovation was hailed as the death knell for libraries, for both the education and public sectors. But the industry has risen to the challenge, embracing change and providing the technology to allow all libraries to evolve from traditional book depositories to interactive learning hubs, where students can access resources 24/7.
Open all hours
The nine-to-five working day is as passé as a five-day week in today’s society, and it is no longer reasonable to limit access to learning resources to the working day. You don’t have to put your library staff on a 24-hour shift pattern, though, because library security solutions make it easy and cost-effective to keep your library open all the time. Self-service units, chip and PIN payment facilities, security gates, return machines and reservation kiosks all contribute to secure services and enable your patrons to access the library whenever they need to.
The key to successful and sustainable 24/7 access is RFID technology. Because RFID tags can be written to as well as read from, self-service systems will immediately update your LMS with loans and returns. Books that have not been checked out or cannot be removed from the library will activate the alarm system and kick-start security processes.
If you are not quite ready to open your doors throughout the night, but want to give students the opportunity to collect reserved items or return loans, you may want to consider installing an automated dispensing machine and returns locker. Both can be located in communal, accessible areas, or even outside, to ease access. Especially handy if campus covers a wide area!
Taking loans to the next level
Laptop loans are an integral part of most university libraries but can impact heavily on departmental budgets, particularly if security is lax. Secure lockers, integrated with your ILS/LMS, or supplied with a separate database are a must-have and give a fast ROI. You choose the parameters for loans, and appropriate security measures can be put in place to support them. It really is that easy. You don’t need to clutter your library space with a plethora of chunky desktop PCs and students don’t need to carry their own heavy, cumbersome laptops all round campus.
The jury is still out on whether digital content is going to render library shelves empty in the future. I believe there will always be a place for hard copies of books, particularly in education, but would be naïve to think that providing access to e-readers and other hardware that enables download and access to e-books isn’t part of a library’s service now.
Keeping the costs down
If you are going to open your library for longer hours, you would expect to incur additional expenditure such as heating and lighting costs, but technology allows you to minimise these costs. The Internet of Things allows us to interconnect technology so that it communicates and makes informed choices as to whether or not to switch the lights on, control the heating thermostat, etc. By linking it to your LMS, it will know how many people have entered the library, and by using thermal imaging technology, it will know where they are in the building and can manage the utilities accordingly.
Where to start?
When you are considering the improvement you can make to your library, I would suggest starting with a wish list and narrow it down according to your allocated budget. Anything that doesn’t make the budget list can be reconsidered at a later date, and if there is a business case for it, then you should apply for additional funding. When you consider the benefits to security and service offering there is very little in the library security sector that doesn’t represent a good return on investment. Seek advice and ask lots of questions to ensure any new technology will integrate with current software; otherwise, you could find yourself spending a lot more money.
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