November 16, 2017

What’s in the Box | Field Reports

As libraries work to maintain and increase their relevance, heightening awareness among nonusers is a ­necessity for survival and prosperity. To bring new users through its doors, Barr Memorial Library, an award-winning library serving the military community in Fort Knox, KY, leveraged the power of curiosity, posing the question, “What’s in the LibraryBox?”

The brainchild of Jason Griffey—a consultant, former head of library information technology at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and a 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker—the LibraryBox is a self-contained, pocket-sized wireless network that was conceived as a programmable, open source file sharing device. The LibraryBox functions like a closed network and is discoverable on portable electronic devices with wireless capabilities, including tablets and smartphones. Details of the project can be found at jasongriffey.net/librarybox.

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The Barr LibraryBox started with Griffey’s basic configuration, working with the TP-LINK TL-MR3020 3G/4G Wireless N150 Portable Router he recommends. Storage for library-added content is provided by a 16GB SanDisk Cruzer flash drive. Both of these key components were found most inexpensively through Amazon [where, at press time, these items were priced at $30 and $10, respectively].

Via Griffey’s step-by-step instructions, a LibraryBox can be created and used “out of the box” by libraries. But Barr has fine-tuned the open source software to its needs. This included building a customized HTML “skin” that presents users with Barr Memorial Library branding and an app-like experience. Optimized for smartphone and tablet users, the interface makes it easy for visitors to access content such as public domain ebooks and audiobooks on their Wi-Fi-enabled devices. In some areas, where content is not readily available owing to copyright considerations, the Barr LibraryBox offers information on how registered users can access proprietary databases and services like Zinio. Creating the custom HTML skin and adjusting the open source code to our specifications were initially the most time-consuming part of the project, although web authoring tools such as Dreamweaver can also be used to create a custom skin.

For initial deployment, the library targeted high-traffic locations where users would be looking for diversion and a way to pass the time, such as the shopping complex’s food court, physical fitness centers, a water park, pharmacies, and cafeterias. Many of these entities were not necessarily regular partners with the library, which afforded an opportunity to build bridges and network. Library staff explained to potential partners that hosting a LibraryBox was more than just raising library awareness; it was an opportunity for those locations to provide value-added service to their customers at no cost. The LibraryBox would be funded, updated, and maintained by library personnel.

Welcome to Barr Memorial

So what’s in the box? The Barr LibraryBox was developed to be one part library promotion, one part content. It assumes no familiarity with library services. Users are presented with links to each of the library’s programs and services (i.e., books, ebooks, audiobooks, movies, etc.) that give a brief introduction to the respective library collection, sample public domain content (that can either be streamed or downloaded), and a short paragraph on who can use the library. To encourage continued use, content is updated quarterly, and incentive “coupons” provide users with expanded borrowing privileges, etc.

Barr’s approach to deploying the ­LibraryBox is unique in that it is attempting to saturate the community with the product, placing it, initially, at 18 locations. The first few months of deployment were wildly successful, and a year into the project the library is averaging between 400 and 500 monthly LibraryBox uses. Simple, eye-catching four-step posters at ­LibraryBox sites inform users how to connect. Customized pieces, such as directions for digital monitors, were also devised at the request of partnering organizations in order to allow them to maximize ­exposure.

As Barr is essentially a public library, its model for employing the LibraryBox as an outreach and awareness tool can be easily adapted by other institutions.

When resources are shrinking, a combination of community outreach and technology can be a powerful tool in bringing library programs and services to the attention of the public. Barr Memorial Library’s LibraryBox, which focuses on delivering content and library information in partnership with local businesses and organizations, has proven to be a success in leveraging library awareness through the use of ­technology.

Michael Steinmacher is Director, Barr Memorial Library, Fort Knox, KY; G.J. Corey Harmon is Circulation Librarian, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY

This article was published in Library Journal's June 15, 2015 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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