Over 4 years ago, having faced two and a half years of budget reductions totaling almost 50%, my Library was forced to close four of our five locations.
It was devastating to the Library and our Community. While the Main Library is well situated in the center of our City, these four branches had provided a network of coverage throughout the community for nearly 80 years. Now we were losing that…
Questions, fears, anger, hurt, and more swirled within our organization and as a barrage from the community.
How had we let this happen?
How would we provide service now?
Would the Library Survive?
What about people who couldn’t get to the Main Library?
This was no subtle shift- no gradual scaling down of the operation- this was a massive closure of facilities all on one day- August 16, 2010. Everyone felt the void in the fabric of the community. And frankly it was necessary to take a period of time to lick wounds, heal the hurt and grieve before anyone (staff or patron) was ready to move forward. But the beauty of all things is that the sun always rises and tomorrow is a new day. So eventually the time came when everyone was open to the discussion of “What next?” and together we walked into the 21st Century Chapter of the Trenton Free Public Library.
We did not want to half-heartedly replace what we had lost or ‘make due’. We wanted something innovative that met the particular needs of our City! Our new service model needed to be economic, low impact on resources, satiate the desire of the community for services close to home, and attempt to repair the damage to the image of the library caused by the shattering of four of our five locations. To this end the library began to search for a new service model.
We knew that continuing to look back at the branches we had lost was a waste of our resources and energy best spent crafting an innovated 21st-century Service Model and began instead to at the loss of our branches as a an opportunity to begin the planning process with an open canvas. This fresh perspective allowed us to build a five-year strategic plan that addresses specifically the service to the entire community on site without physical locations.
Our new Service Model, stripped to its most simplistic version, include the implementation of the following components over a five-year period:
- Outposts spread throughout the community (four at least)
- A CyberMobile
- A small physical location in a high traffic commercial area dedicated to On-The-Go Technology and Service
- An emphasis upon Outreach and Embedded Librarianship
- Become the Hub for all community information.
With this service model and idea in place, approved by the Library Board, and our City partners, we began to move forward. First up Outposts!
What is an outpost you may ask yourself?
You may have heard them referred to as a satellite location, an unmanned branch, a vending machine, etc. None of these names resonated within our organization or our community; therefore, we termed them “Outposts”. An Outpost consists of three pieces of equipment and a commitment of partnership and out reach in that particular location. The equipment includes a lending machine (think vending machine but with books instead of potato chips and Snickers bars), a locker system for hold pickup, and a book drop.
After the appropriate RFP process, we purchased 2 Outposts from a lovely company called PIK,Inc using CDBG funds graciously given to the project by the City of Trenton. We partnered with respected Community organizations (such as the YMCA) to place the Outposts in high-use facilities within the community to maximize their potential and exposure.
These new Outposts, the first 2 of 4, provide our Library Card holders with instant access to between 250-500 books in the lending machine and the ENTIRE collection for pick up at the lockers within 24-48 hours. Along with the book drop, these Outposts provide patrons with the ability to access the Libraries materials in their own neighborhoods!
This Outpost is not only the first of its kind in New Jersey but also the FIRST on the entire mid-Atlantic Seaboard. We are very proud!!