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Making self-service flexible

{% include /c/figure.html alt="Customers using our new self-service machines" src="/images/featured/featured-using-self-service.jpg" caption="Customers using our new self-service machines" %}

We recently installed new self-service machines in our libraries. Let’s take a close look at how we made our new system flexible, so we could use it in different situations at minimum cost and work.

We’ve already blogged about the research phase. During this time, we carried out a week-long feasibility study and design sprint with design agency Clearleft, where we determined that we wanted our new machines to simply issue, renew and return items, and be fully customisable.

We decided that the best solution to our needs was to develop a Progressive Web App, a normal, secure website with special offline functionality, which would ‘talk’ to our Library Management System (LMS), accessing the data on borrowers and items that we needed.

This meant that we could run the site on any device with the Chrome browser, from a smartphone to a large screen monitor. We could therefore avoid the license fees associated with pre-packaged self-service machines by building our own system and running it on devices of our choosing. The offline functionality was also an important consideration, as the internet can be unreliable in deepest Suffolk!

While development company Dootrix developed the website, we tested the machines – among ourselves in the office, with focus groups of ‘typical’ library customers, and ‘in the wild’ at four libraries. We made changes as we came across problems, both in terms of the actual functioning of the site and tablets, and how easy and intuitive they were to use. Feedback from customers who were using the machines ‘for real’ was especially important as it was them we really needed to impress and convince of the need for change! Once we were happy with the site, tablets and stands, we installed them at 44 libraries all over Suffolk.

{% include /c/figure.html alt="Our old and new self-service machines" src="/images/featured/featured-old-new-self-service.jpg" caption="Our new self-service units are lighter and more portable" %}

Suffolk Libraries Local

As mentioned, our new self-service site can be used on any device with the Chrome browser. This year, we’ve been running a project called Suffolk Libraries Local, where we set up weekly ‘pop-up’ libraries in three locations that are not served by a static library.

As there is usually only one member of staff at Suffolk Libraries Local, it is very useful for them to have self-service available when they are busy. They might be reading stories to babies and toddlers or running activities for older people, for example. It’s also important that they can transport their equipment between the three locations and set everything up easily.

While most of the self-service tablet holders we use are light and practical enough to move around in libraries, they were a bit too unwieldy for Suffolk Libraries Local staff to take in their van. Our new system meant that they could replace the standard holder with a simple wire stand, making the machine even more portable.

{% include /c/figure.html alt="Suffolk Libraries Local customers self-issuing books using a tablet" src="/images/featured/featured-sll-self-service.jpg" caption="Our Suffolk Libraries Local pop-ups run our flexible new self-service system on a tablet on a wire stand" %}

We would definitely encourage other libraries to look into taking the same approach to self-service. Our old machines were bulky, and it was expensive to maintain them and buy additional units. By contrast, we can run our new self-service website on as many different devices, and types of device, as we want at no extra cost. We really appreciate the extra flexibility they give us – more power to the library!