Improving local library services at scale

Libraries today are technology-enabled community hubs where people can come to find books, use IT, relax, work and even exercise or meet others with similar interests.

As a charitable social enterprise, GLL (Greenwich Leisure Limited) was formed in 1993 to run a broad range of community services, including five libraries which it manages in partnership with local councils. Delivering quality services across a library network of this size can be a challenge. Every area is unique and local communities want different things from their library.

Education Software Solutions (ESS) Soprano library management solution has been working behind the scenes for decades, providing the information GLL needs to ensure its libraries continually evolve and today they attract more visitors than any other library service in the UK.

A technology-enabled library service

Technology is a key feature across the GLL libraries group, and a variety of tools have been introduced to enhance the experience of customers and staff.

For example, GLL’s ‘hublet’ scheme enables visitors to use tablet devices in libraries to access the internet in relaxed seating, rather than using a fixed PC. These are really popular and give citizens a whole new experience of going to the library, as GLL's national libraries director explains.

“Our hublets can be reserved online, allowing people to come in and search for books and use our online newspapers and magazines from our extensive digital library, without being confined to a desk or PC.

“Visitors can scroll through the digital catalogue while they wander around freely browsing the shelves, quickly find a book on a topic they’re interested in or even relax in a chair by the window while they catch up with the latest headlines in an online newspaper.

“The LMS ensures the catalogue is always up to date, making it easier for visitors to get the most from their library and saving hours of time for staff.  It’s a great way to encourage people to come along and access our services.”

The LMS links seamlessly with the RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) system used in GLL libraries too. So when the customer has found the books they need on the shelf, they can issue them without having to wait for staff to help.

“Libraries need to provide the technology their customers use. It’s almost impossible to understate the importance of having a reliable LMS in place that works with the variety of systems in use across the GLL group.”

Using intelligent decision making

To keep visitors coming back to their local libraries, GLL is proactive in ensuring collections are up to date and stocked with a wide variety of reading materials. The data from ESS’s Soprano system is critical for helping staff to understand what people are looking for and importantly, tracking changing trends in local reading habits.

“We are very data hungry at GLL. Our network of libraries all use the ESS solution and so we have access to a wide range of information that helps us to improve our services.

For instance, it is easy to identify libraries where a particular author or genre is growing in popularity – and so we can provide more.

The data from Soprano is used on a daily basis to make decisions, such as purchasing new e-resources, subscribing to a series of podcasts or moving stock from one library to another so that more people have the chance to enjoy subjects they are interested in.”

Uncovering the trends

The information from the LMS was particularly important during the pandemic when normal services were disrupted, and people were unable to spend time in their local library in the usual way.

“Many of our libraries quickly shifted to a click and collect service where customers could look through our online catalogue from home, download an e-book, listen to a podcast or reserve items for collection.

The data highlighted a huge increase in people’s desire for feel good items during this time, such as books with a comedy theme or happy ending. Knowing this, we could make more of these types of reading materials available either as physical books customers could collect or as downloadable resources they could access at home.”

Delivering quality services

GLL saw a significant uplift in the number of reservations made online throughout the pandemic and this trend continued as more libraries open up after lockdown.

The group is committed to running libraries that are highly valued community hubs of activity, with anything from author talks and maths groups to parents’ clubs and yoga classes on offer.

“It’s shown us that when you deliver a great service, people are much more likely to continue to engage with their local library – even when events such as Covid-19 temporarily close the doors.

“With over 100 sites across the UK, ESS’s Soprano LMS is essential for helping us to understand the needs of the local population and fine tune our services to meet them. We simply couldn’t operate without it.”