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Cupertino Library's Tech Toolbar

Santa Clara County Library, CA

Innovation Summary

The Cupertino Tech Toolbar is a pilot project for the Santa Clara County Library District (SCCLD) that was generously funded by the Cupertino Library Foundation. The toolbar is a custom-designed desk with six devices affixed atop the counter. Volunteers staff the toolbar and demonstrate how to access electronic content.

Problem Statement

The tech toolbar seeks to address two challenges regarding electronic services: in-library promotion of electronic content and patron inquiries about device interaction with library materials. With the rise in mobile technology, came the need and demand from patrons for library content that could be easily consumed on a wide variety of devices. This posed a unique challenge for our library system in that we were unable to answer these questions using a traditional reference desk model. Retrieving devices from locked receptacles, powering them on, and attempting to demonstrate downloading within the framework of a typical reference interview proved difficult and did not lend well to good customer service. Librarians were essentially conducting second-level reference interviews (that felt both fractured and hurried) at the desk. Meanwhile, patrons continued to flock to the library seeking device help and answers to their eBook questions. This challenge fueled internal talks about how the library could balance the needs of patrons hungry for electronic content with the demands of a normal reference desk. The library saw a unique opportunity to reach out to a new group of library users, namely mobile content consumers. Not only would the library be engaging with those hungry for content (patrons), but also those hungry to share their knowledge of technology within a library environment (volunteers).


Tech toolbar volunteers are the backbone of the project. These volunteers are set apart from normal library volunteers in that they come to the table with a high level of expertise about technology (in general) and mobile technology (in particular). The library designed a three-tiered level of service of which the volunteers comprise the 1st, and perhaps most important tier -- initial patron interaction. They staff the toolbar desk during peak hours and triage patron questions about electronic content. They also offer public demonstrations of electronic content (e.g. downloading eBooks) at regular intervals throughout their shift. The second tier of service is offered at the reference desk. Volunteers field in-depth questions to the reference librarians who determine whether to answer the question then and there or to escalate the question to the third tier: a one-on-one appointment with a reference librarian. Another key element is the desk itself which contains two of each of the following devices: Windows Surface, iOS devices (an iPad and an iPad Mini), Google’s Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, Nook HD, Kindle Paperwhite, Nook Simple Touch, and the Sony Reader. The purpose of the devices on display is to encourage library patrons to engage with the devices and volunteers and learn about the library’s electronic content. The final key element is the library staff. Intensive training on the devices and the various content providers (Overdrive, Axis 360, etc) was necessary at the onslaught. Each reference librarian was assigned a device that they would be responsible for providing one-on-one help with. All librarians, however, would be responsible for answering basic device and content questions, within the framework of a 5-10 minute reference interview.


The Tech Toolbar soft-launched in April of 2013. Volunteers are currently staffing the toolbar -- assisting patrons and triaging questions. However, a targeted marketing campaign is not yet underway. After hard-launch in May, the library will begin a targeted marketing campaign and anticipates that this will lead to a surge in usage of electronic content as well as patron visits to the toolbar. We will be assessing the success of the project throughout its duration using surveys for staff, volunteers, and patrons in addition to statistics and focus groups. Our desired outcomes are the following: Increased electronic downloads. Increased awareness among current library users of electronic content. Development of a replicable model to bring to other locations. Development of training materials and videos for staff, volunteers, and the public.