The public library in Gibsons is using high tech to lower the barriers to book borrowing. A self-serve loan locker was activated this week at the Gibsons and Area Community Centre, allowing library patrons to reserve items online and collect them from the popular civic hub.
The distribution system was purchased using over $38,000 raised by the nonprofit Gibsons and District Library Foundation, and installed through a partnership with the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD). The SCRD operates the community centre and provides operational funding to the library.
“I think everyone’s just excited about expanding service,” said Heather Evans-Cullen, director of the Gibsons library. “Everybody’s really happy anytime we get a chance to do that.”
The Gibsons and District Public Library accumulated seven years of feedback that suggested its downtown location — at the base of a steep hill — was an impediment for some visitors. Combining input with results from a survey conducted in 2018, the library’s board of directors identified remote accessibility as a priority for its three-year strategic plan.
“We are very pleased to partner with the SCRD,” said Janet Hodgkinson, chair of the library’s board of directors. “We tossed around various ideas for locations in Upper Gibsons, but the community centre just made the most sense and they were very open to the idea. It’s all-round a really good collaboration.”
Evans-Cullen contacted libraries across North America to investigate self-serve technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic, automatic checkout and no-touch book distribution systems have grown in popularity.
When reserving materials using the library’s online catalogue, readers can choose to collect their selections as usual from the library’s main branch on South Fletcher Road — or from the Community Centre locker. An email arrives to advise that items are ready for collection. At the locker, a simple swipe of a library card is all it takes to securely produce the borrower’s books.
Assistant librarian Jocelyn Stewart managed setup of the new equipment, which was installed in the fall and took several months to configure. If the system’s popularity grows, Evans-Cullen said, the library will consider the addition of a vending console allowing passers-by to browse a selection of titles and make withdrawals on a whim.
The project is the latest to be realized through investment from the Gibsons and District Library Foundation. The standalone organization was established in 2000 with funds remaining after the library’s construction. Its budget is supplemented through bequests and fundraising campaigns.
“We do try and give a donation every year to [the library] for something that they have said that they require,” said foundation chair Elaine Jackson, “and something that they cannot put in the regular budget because it’s not covered as part of operations. From our point of view, [the book locker] is a great way for the library to expand its services into the community.”
The foundation previously helped upgrade the library’s audiovisual capabilities and purchased a collection of STEAM (science, technology, engineer, arts and math) kits for interactive study by library patrons.
While the automated locker will be used to distribute physical items, circulation of digital resources has grown by 40 per cent in the last three years.
“That was partly spurred by the pandemic because people were more housebound and looking for options,” said Evans-Cullen. “A lot of people who weren’t reading e-books and audiobooks switched over during the pandemic. That’s a wave that all libraries are seeing. Our print circulation is steady, but digital is definitely going up.”
The book locker is ready for use immediately, with video instructions available online at gibsons.bc.libraries.coop.