When a study presented to the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors found notable geographic inequities existing in library service in Far East County, an area experiencing unprecedented growth, the Board directed the County Librarian to implement immediate options for improving service to the residents without additional county funds and without reducing services provided throughout the twenty-five community libraries. Along with this service challenge, the Library’s new Strategic Plan was placing an emphasis on self-service and wherever possible, taking library services to where people are rather than requiring an added trip to the library. Several published reports also revealed that compared to other Bay Area residents, Contra Costa County workers experience the longest travel times.
The Costa County Library launched a new service, branded Library-a-Go-Go, the first fully automated, 24/7 library book lending service in the country that exists where no library service existed before. The machines provide a cost-effective method for opening a new location and extending hours of operation so when all other community libraries are closed; these unstaffed locations are available for customers. To deliver services in nontraditional spaces, the Library partnered with a transit agency and a shopping center developer.
Contra Costa County Library pioneered this European-based technology in North America and library automation staff extended the original design making it the first automated book lending machine in the country to connect in real-time to the library system so that customer accounts are automatically updated and books returned are immediately available for borrowing. Staff also installed a remote camera inside the machines for closer monitoring and for troubleshooting site malfunctions.
Library-a-Go-Go machines have helped to bridge service gaps to two underserved populations: County residents who do not live close to a community library and commuters who do not have time to visit a bricks-and-mortar library building. This technology is extending the Library’s service delivery model by providing an opportunity to cost-effectively open a new location where previously there was none, without the need to purchase land, nor fund the construction of a building and hire staff to operate it.
One machine’s location is at a point serving over 8,000 daily commuters. During its first 2 weeks of operation, the machine had 468 circulations and 30% of its collection is checked out at any given time. Within the first 10 days of service, there were 150 on-site library card registrations at this location.