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Point of Service to Patrons - Using Tablets to Expand Service & Access to Resources

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Point of Service to Patrons - Using Tablets to Expand Service & Access to Resources

Hennepin County Library, Minn.

Customer Experience | 2013

Innovation Summary

Two test projects in 2012 provided Hennepin County Library staff the opportunity to use iPads and HP Elitebook tablets to explore and expand services for library patrons. The success of these projects led to iPads being deployed to all 41 locations, supporting new service initiatives and access to library resources.

Problem Statement

With increased use of mobile devices and growth of mobile apps and downloadable content, Hennepin County Library staff were looking for opportunities to integrate tablets into our public service model. Staff wanted to demonstrate ebooks, databases, downloadable music and magazines, and other resources on the devices the patrons would be using at home, Staff also wanted tools they could use anywhere in a library building and also take to community locations. The challenge, and the opportunity, was to move from testing individual devices to developing a framework for changing the way staff provide library service by giving them new tools and the chance to innovate around service delivery. We knew tablets would provide new ways to connect with patrons. But before investing in iPads for all 41 libraries, we needed to confirm that they would work in our environment, what kind of support they would require, and how they would work with our ILS and other resources. We also knew that expanding access to these tools would lead to request for new resources as staff began to work with patrons in new ways. We started with tables at 2 locations to test the service implications and devices before rolling them out more widely to ensure they met our public service needs, and to confirm that we would be prepared to support them.


Staff at two Hennepin County libraries were provided with iPads to use in their work with patrons. Staff at other libraries were provided with an HP Elitebook tablet to use as their primary computer as well as with library patrons. They were provided with a basic overview of the device, which was delivered essentially “out of the box” with very little additional set-up. All staff were encouraged to explore ways the device could be used to support their work, as well as to document ways where the device didn’t work well or wasn’t as effective as using a desktop computer. Staff in both test groups submitted regular evaluations documenting their experiences with the tablets, and also used Yammer to share ideas collaboratively with each other and with staff on the project team. Staff at the pilot locations also shared information in a number of staff forums, including presenting at system-wide staff sessions, so a broader group of staff was able to become familiar with how the tablets were being used. Once the tests were completed, staff reviewed the evaluations and moved ahead with a business analysis on the cost of providing iPads for all 41 locations. We also developed an implementation and training package to support staff as they started to use the iPads, based on what was learned from the test libraries. This package included best practices for setting up iPads with basic apps for library resources, account management, activities for becoming familiar with touch-screen devices, and best practices for working with mobile tools with patrons.


With this project we were able to test tablets by putting them in the hands of the staff who would use them with patrons. We learned from them about what training and support was needed. These staff were able to lead the conversation about how tablets could be used in their work. There were immediate changes in how staff at the test locations worked with patrons, and their enthusiasm for what they learned was an important part of making it possible to move ahead with providing iPads to all of our libraries. The implementation has also allowed us to adapt to the changes taking place with mobile devices. We continue to explore ways to provide service using mobile devices, — finding ways to connect with patrons wherever and however they want to work with us. Before this project, staff didn’t have the tools to show patrons the library’s mobile app or the vendor apps that patrons used to access ebooks, databases, downloadable music and magazines, and other resources, and this initiative has made that access possible. It also led us to review how we provide information about these resources on our website, and how we connect with mobile patrons in general. Our work in this area can only be strengthened by having iPads, and eventually other mobile tools, in the hands of our staff. This is the first big step in a broader strategy making staff more mobile, and improving access to resources for mobile patrons.