Community College of Aurora in collaboration with Aurora Public Library is the first higher education institution in the United States to employ new technology that provides students access to over 30 million library holdings, while affording direct access to items in and around its own home state.
SmartLocker equipment pioneered by Bibliotheca Library Technology Company (www.bibliotheca.com) is the delivery system by which students can log in, make their requests, and a couple of business days later, receive reserved items in hand.
The process occurs by requesting a library item through Aurora’s online system, which is in the end facilitated by a courier who will place the requested books, DVDs, audiobooks, and more into one of 18 drawers that comprise the SmartLocker.
The three-tower unit with a center electronic console can store about 90 items at a time. The machine is located in the student common area in the Student Centre on CCA’s CentreTech campus. A soft launch occurred in September before going fully online in October.
“This has been almost two years in the making, so to see this collaboration come to fruition is a landmark achievement,” said Joanna Powell, director of Library Resources at Community College of Aurora.
“Aurora Public Library’s willingness to support CCA has made this possible, and the college is greatly appreciative of their generosity and willingness to include us in this trailblazing effort.”
APL already had access to the powerful and expensive database Prospector, which is a consortium of libraries in Colorado and neighboring Wyoming and includes the catalogs of numerous colleges such as the University of Colorado and University of Denver.
CCA previously didn’t have the funding to offer that massive repository. But with the addition of SmartLocker, CCA’s capabilities have been raised exponentially.
The video screen in the center of the SmartLocker’s three towers is linked to APL’s computer system.
“This pushes CCA above and beyond what a lot of community colleges can do,” Powell added.
Aurora Public Library purchased the machine, is providing courier service and opening up their holdings for the benefit of students. The library hopes to expand the program deeper into Aurora after ensuring that CCA’s participation runs smoothly.
Patti C. Bateman, APL’s director of Library and Cultural Services, said CCA was “the obvious partner” not only for the students who frequent the library but those encountering limitations due to family, class or work obligations that preclude such visits.
“Our mission is: live, learn, achieve. We support education as a core mission. So here were people trying to come to us and we wanted to reach out to them,” Bateman explained. “This seemed like the best way to provide access.”
For ease’s sake, CCA students now can receive Aurora Public Library cards directly on campus, access the locker’s touchscreen technology, and have a large piece of the written world at their fingertips. APL in turn can benefit from increased traffic created by this endeavor.
“Having access to Aurora Public Library’s holdings and giving our students access to Prospector’s consortium of libraries is huge. And having that sense of community involvement and collaboration is important,” Powell said. “The bottom line is that this will be a huge benefit for our students, in terms of the number of quality resources they can get.”
SmartLocker systems as late as last March had previously only been up and running at three other North American locations: two in Topeka, Kansas; another in Winnipeg, Canada. The technology already has gained traction in Europe and has been making its way to the West.
The Topeka Public Library used SmartLocker in concert with a community center, whose longer hours of operation allowed for additional library access. A similar setup existed in Manitoba. The other Kansas machine resides outside the library itself.
“It’s extending a library, basically,” said Harold Sams, an installation engineer for Bibilotheca.
CCA students with the addition of APL’s holdings now have access to JSTOR and EBSCOhost databases for scholarly journals, AspenCat and Prospector for print materials, eBrary for e-books, in addition to its own DVD and print collections.
In the big picture, this is yet another outward adaptation made by libraries to the advent of technology. Card catalogs morphed into online integrated library system catalogs that can show titles on hand. Computer displays then allowed users to see the title of books and electronically flip through pages.
SmartLocker is another step forward.
“I could just see since we were losing facilities but the demand was still there that this would be a wonderful thing, and it’s relatively inexpensive,” Bateman said.
She was partially sold on the technology after a demonstration several years back during which a child scanned a card, saw the drawer pop open and deliver a book. The boy’s called it “the magic box.”
“There were rumors several years ago about the demise of libraries because of e-books,” Bateman said. “But people forget libraries have absorbed, adapted and included all manner of technology changes over the years. This is just another way to provide services and reach out to people the way they need it.”