I recently had the chance to interview Dauna Campbell, Library Director of Harlingen Public Library, about her library’s new 24-hour outdoor kiosk.
Today’s highlight: 24-hour outdoor kiosk
What is the kiosk exactly?
If you can imagine a Redbox for a library, that’s pretty much what this is. It’s a machine that holds 340 items, and people can request items. We can put the items in there for them to pick up and they can return them there, 24 hours a day. We don’t have the credit card machine attached to it yet, but eventually they’ll be able to pay their fines with the machine. I think more people have returned books there than actually check them out, so I think there’s a big convenience factor. Underneath, there are nine sorter bins, so when people return them, it sorts the material however we want it.
This is in a city park, right?
Yes, the city was creating a destination park, so they completely renovated a centrally located park and built this huge nice, accessibility playground, and the kiosk is sitting right in front of it. So we have a natural audience of kids that can come and check out books. The park is also next to the Boys and Girls Club. We’ve chosen the location that we felt would be able to get our target audience, which would be families and people that maybe don’t have time to come to the library, or they’re in a rush, or maybe the library hours don’t really work for them.
Can you tell me how you got the kiosk? I’m assuming the pandemic had something to do with it, with the new need for social distancing and contactless services?
Well, actually it goes back even further than that. During my job interview six and a half years ago, the city manager said that they were really interested in getting a bookmobile, and they asked me, as a director, how would I get funding for a bookmobile? And my answer was “I wouldn’t,” because of the high cost of a bookmobile – the cost of getting the vehicle, staffing it, the gas, etc. The cost of operating a bookmobile is just really beyond what I believe the city could afford, and so what I proposed actually was a 24-hour library or a library kiosk strategically placed throughout the city. So I always had this project in the back of my mind. Then we had a grant opportunity that popped up [TSLAC Border Cities Grant], and this grant was very narrowly focused. We were maybe one of five or six cities that were eligible to apply for it. The grant was to expand library services to underserved communities, and it only covered certain things like construction of a brand new library, but not extend expansion of an existing library. So this is a great opportunity to fund my kiosk idea. It was still in the back of my mind from way back in my interview.
What was involved with getting the kiosk? I’m assuming you had to get buy-in from a lot of different partners?
Actually, everybody really loved the idea. Getting the buy-in wasn’t hard. Getting us to the point that we could have the kiosk was where the challenge was. We didn’t have to convert our collection to RFID, but the machine was less functional if we didn’t. We used part of the grant funding to completely convert our entire collection to RFID. So staff did a tremendous amount of work, first weeding our entire collection since we were closed for part of COVID. That was a great project for staff to work on since we didn’t have anybody here, and they could really knock it out fairly fast. Finding a location was another issue. We wanted it to be someplace that was centrally located and easily accessible. We had talked to a couple of businesses, and the situation was never quite right. And then we thought, we’re putting all this money into the super park. It’s in a centrally located area, it’s close to public housing, it’s close to the Boys and Girls Club, and we have this beautiful new playground. So it just kind of seemed like an ideal location, and it really fit into what they wanted for this park.
Besides just getting your whole collection ready, were there other challenges to it?
The challenges of COVID were big. It was more dealing with the supply chain issues and dealing with the other functions of cities that slowed us down more than anything, but we were able to get it installed by the grant deadline with about a week and a half to spare.
How did you work out the branding? I really like the way you’ve done it.
That was actually a staff member. She has since left – she’s going to library school. She did all the the design of it, and then we sent it to a local vendor who put the graphics on it.
How long ago was this fully launched?
The machine arrived and was set up in August 2021. We did a soft launch in September and October while we worked out some of the kinks, and then we did the ribbon cutting in November.
How have the first initial few months been going?
It’s been going really well. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from the community. We are the first in Texas to have an EnvisionWare machine so there’s a lot of pride in that. We’re not a big town. We have about 75 000 people. Harlingen is right on the border halfway between Brownsville and McAllen.
So I know people can browse just by looking at the spines, but there’s also a catalog interface, right? Does that show you just what’s in the kiosk or is it the whole catalog?
Yes, it’s our full catalog, and they can filter it from the kiosk. They’re able to select a location.
I wanted to ask about promotion and marketing and what you’ve done to do the outreach to get people aware of this because this is kind of a new concept.
Our city’s PR department has been very, very generous with their time and helped us do a promotional video. We did do a ribbon cutting, we’ve had news spots, and we were in the local newspaper. It’s in a very visible location so a lot of people were asking about it over Facebook. Plus, a lot of local local media has been promoting it for us.
What about security?
There are four exterior security cameras and one internal, and the internal one is so that if we have issues then Envisionware can log in and look at the mechanism from afar. The other benefit of where we put it is it’s literally 200 feet from the police department, and they’re constantly driving past it.
Are your items protected from the environment?
Yes, the machine is climate controlled, and as far as rain, there’s the slab that is elevated a little bit. They’ve since built a retaining wall around the back and sides so if it did get heavy rain, then dirt and mud would not slide underneath the machine.
Anything planned for this that you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet? What’s the future look like for it?’
If it continues to get good use and people are really responsive to it, I would like to add about another two of them to different parts of the city. We’re in a community that’s not huge, and this is a really great way to give library service to areas where it’s tougher for parents to take their kids to the library or it’s much more convenient to return items.
It seems to me you’ve embedded the library in this new way throughout the community, and as you keep building more of the kiosks, I would think this would start to positively affect the relationship that the library has with the whole community. Do you think that that’s happening now already?
We have had people that have come into the library to renew their library card or to get library cards just so that they could use the kiosk, so i think, especially if they drive past this area or if they take their kids to the park, it’s that constant reminder that we’re here. Our library is across the street from the city lake, but it’s not super visible, and I think that the more we have these visual cues around the city, people are going to remember that we’re here.
I love that it would actually drive even more people to the library. Not only have you made a billboard, but you’ve wooed them with the technology itself as well. Patrons will see the kiosk and think, “Ooh, what’s this cool new thing?” and start to associate cool new things with the library. They’ll believe the public library’s really with it with regard to new technology.
Last question: do you have any advice for libraries that might want a kiosk?
I think the big thing is to be realistic about your timeline and what your city or your organization is going to require from you. Plan your location very strategically. What’s your target audience and where will it be the most effective? I feel like it took us a long time to decide on a location, and the businesses that we thought would be open to hosting it were not really open to hosting it, and then we also kind of ran into COVID issues and supply chain issues, so I think just give yourself much more time than you really believe you need.