Responding to the changing needs of library users

With increasingly tech-savvy citizens keen to engage with library services remotely, Barnet needed a library management system that would offer more online options and help its libraries run more efficiently.

From inspiring the story-obsessed child devouring a book a day to helping more citizens access the internet, Barnet’s libraries offer far more than just a simple book-borrowing service. They are a crucial source of information, education, and escapism for the communities they serve.

Home to nearly 400,000 people, the London Borough of Barnet has 14 libraries, including four which are run by not-for-profit partnerships and community groups. The council’s focus is to deliver quality services and continually improve the experience of customers. 

In 2018, after a detailed review of other solutions on the market, the council chose the ESS Library Management System (LMS) to help it fulfil its vision for a truly modern service, with customers able to manage their accounts online and staff free to focus more time on expanding the libraries’ offering.

Modernising services

Improving the customer experience was a key goal for the council, as Hannah Richens, head of library services, explains. “Our previous system was clunky and old-fashioned. Customers couldn’t reserve things online, so we had to have complicated workarounds like e-forms in place. We wanted a simpler way for people to find what they were looking for.”

In addition, Barnet’s old system was difficult for staff to navigate, so even the simplest tasks were time-consuming and led to inefficient work practices.

“With a number of volunteers supporting our libraries, we wanted an easy-to-use system that would help us to improve staff efficiency,” says Hannah.

A customer-centred service

With the new ESS system in place, customers were able to search for and reserve books and other resources online. For Hannah, the solution has played an essential role in helping to promote other services provided through the council’s libraries too.

“Our libraries serve as an active community hub and we run numerous events and activities for all ages in-house such as reading groups, author events, and creative workshops.

“We now have the ability to customise the Barnet libraries homepage to strengthen the community brand and promote all our events and activities more effectively. These are services some citizens may not have been aware of before.”

Scope to flex

When libraries closed across the country during the pandemic, the flexibility of ESS’s system became invaluable.

“We worked quickly with ESS to make the system changes needed to help ensure our libraries could continue to serve the community,” says Hannah.

“During lockdown, we removed the option to reserve physical copies of reading materials as customers were unable to come to the library to pick them up at the time. We stopped issuing fines for late returns, increased borrowing periods and shifted many of our events online too.

“Once restrictions eased, we reopened in July 2020 with a ‘select and collect’ service which has been running ever since, where customers can choose a book online, or by phone for those without internet access, then simply collect it from the library door.”

The ability for customers to pre-book computers resumed too, which as Hannah explains became increasingly important for some customers.

“Libraries play a critical role in providing access to technology and the digital divide grew even greater during the pandemic. Being able to run a booking process that linked automatically with the library management system and borrower record saved a lot of time and helped us to get our computer service back up and running safely in line with social distancing requirements.”

Streamlined working

The increase in the libraries’ online services has improved efficiency and helped staff to focus more time on customers.

“With ESS, we’ve seen how intuitive an LMS can be. Library staff and volunteers now have an easy-to-use system that cuts time spent on desk-based tasks, freeing them up to provide a better customer service.”

Library staff have a clear picture of the borrowing and stock databases from a single screen and late return fines are now collected without staff input, as online card payments through the LMS have simplified the process for customers.

“Year-end reporting across all libraries in Barnet is now managed by ESS too, allowing library staff to be redirected to tasks that improve the experience of customers,” says Hannah.

Boosting library services

Online membership and reservations have grown since the implementation of the new LMS and the council has seen a 123% increase in the loan of digital resources such as e-books, newspapers, magazines and audiobooks during the pandemic.

“The ability to interact with the library online has increased the number of new joiners and book reservations have gone up significantly as a result,” says Hannah.

“We’ve also been able to look at boosting attendance at our events and activities, enhancing the importance of our libraries to the community.”

For Barnet, holding book-related activities online during lockdown opened up the possibility for many more people to attend a single event than it would be possible to accommodate within the physical library spaces available.

“We could now have 70 or more people joining a virtual author event, which simply isn’t feasible if the event is taking place inside a library. As a result, we’re now looking at running a broader blend of virtual and on-site activities in future, helping us to build a better community library service for all our customers.”