Use the library – outside opening hours as well

New technology gives small libraries a boost

More than ever Danish libraries are in the throws of structural changes where small units face the risk of being abolished when reason dictates that they cannot continue as traditional libraries.

The number of libraries in Denmark has been declining over the past ten years, and this development looks likely to continue, unless the libraries take up the challenge of devising alterations to the way of being a library. Amongst other things this means that there must be a much higher degree of cooperation on IT and technology as well as new and different functions being integrated in the library. It is also essential – more so now than ever before – to create local networks via concrete partnerships with local users and institutions. Public as well as commercial alliances are very beneficial to libraries!

The local library cannot – rationally speaking – be maintained as traditional library branch with the kind of stock and content that tend to be a reflection of the large main library’s way of operating.

If new IT, technology and broadband connections is the putty needed for holding the structure together, then specialised library types – with other functions integrated – will become part of a local network where the cooperation provides the library with new roles in the local areas, if the staff is also prepared to change the way of being a librarian at the same time.

The library’s service model

The classic role of the library – to be a neutral mediator of information to a broader public – has long since been taken over by net services like Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, I-tunes and similar services. One might therefore contemplate the library’s role based on the concept: service model. By tradition the library uses two service models when it comes to service to the public:

- General opening hours: when people come primarily to return material – Book-a-librarian: where edited knowledge is made available to a targeted user group who contacts the service. The model has been introduced in several Danish libraries.

A third service model is now being tested at Silkeborg Library: self-service, where in principle the aim is to augment the accessibility to the library by creating easy and swift access – all around the clock. Also with a view better to utilise the fine buildings with a large number of materials previously accessible to patrons and the public during just a few opening hours. The three service models can – in a suitable mix – supplement each other, and the mix can be adjusted according to the function by which the local library wishes to raise its profile.

Access via RFID

In project ‘Self-service’ we have produced a RFID borrower’s card which also acts as admittance card to the library.

The card is free of charge and can be issued in the library within normal opening hours. When you subsequently find yourself at the entrance to the library, you will be recognised via the chip, bid welcome by name on a small display outside the entrance, and upon keying in your pin code you can enter the library. The pin code is the one already used on the self-service terminals in the library or for reservations via the Internet.

A photo is taken of the person who enters, and data are logged on the person’s ID. This information is saved on a central server, which ensures that later we may follow up on any problems in the building. When entering you are told that your photo is being taken.

Silkeborg Library has already now gained experience with RFID chip in materials for loan where the chip is being used as identification of the material based on a unique material number which is combined with a central Faust number in the library’s database. Loan and return of materials is therefore already a self-service function which all users today take advantage of in the libraries in Silkeborg.

The libraries in Silkeborg are already cooperating on the running of the server and PC-booking via the Internet.

Guidance via webcam and info stands

Two info stands in the library can provide you with information on your dealings with the library (borrower status, reservation, bills). A chip-reader ‘reads’ the material when placed on a shelf by the info stand.

The chip signal releases a search in the library’s database and the result is combined with a check in the net service ‘My Library’, which suggests titles for further reading that in context is similar to the material placed on the info stand.

From the info stand you can call the HelpDesk in the main library – within that library’s opening hours. Calls can be seen on the PCs that have HelpDesk installed.

Via webcam and headset you are able to see and hear each other while guidance is being given.

Via three web cameras placed in the local library and a map of the library premises (with materials) the staff at the main library can guide you around the room, and you can also get help with searches in the library’s database which can be reached via the info stand.

Each morning the library’s chauffeurs deliver ordered materials to the local library and place them according to a number system. The number is sent to the users via mail, sms or letter whereupon the material can be collected from the library. Material can only be issued to the user-ID that placed the order. Consequently, you cannot take home materials other than those you yourself have ordered – and of course those titles that are placed on the library’s open shelves.

A fortnight after the start of self-service about 125 new cards have been issued. The card can be used for self-service at the local library as well as used as an ordinary card at Silkeborg Library’s other branches as there is a barcode on the back.

Will the library have an impact on development?

New technology can be employed to give access to a number of functions and services that could previously only be obtained by appearing in person in the ‘ordinary’ library. New technology makes it possible to introduce selfservice in small libraries. Periods with self-service supplement the general opening hours and mean that service and degree of usage are optimised.

For many years Silkeborg Library has opted to be an experimental library. And through projects we use technology to underpin learning, knowledge and experience while at the same time making sure that cultural and social activities to a greater degree stem from the library’s platform.

Traditional library materials will be less important in the future, and the transition from collections to connections is a process in which libraries need to find their role – unless we leave it to technology to call the tune. Do we remain where we are when the platform changes? Do we make a move forward – or do we give up and contend ourselves with just following suit? The library’s staff will be in a better winning position by minding the helm themselves when the course is set, thereby deciding whether the library is to be abreast of development or a backstop.

Economics and partnerships

Silkeborg’s project takes place at Gjern Library – 16 kilometres outside Silkeborg. In Silkeborg we have exploited our knowledge about chip (RFID) technology in partnership with the firm Cordura. Apart from that we have cooperated with TagVision (gates and loans and return technology) as well as (info stands).

The project receives financial support from the Danish Library Agency’s Development Pool. You can see more about the project at Silkeborg Library’s homepage: /projekter/den-selvbetjente-biblioteksfilial/ default.html

Mogens Larsen
Project responsible and librarian
Silkeborg Library’s development group


Translated by Vibeke Cranfield

Project responsible and librarian Silkeborg Library’s development group