June 25, 2014 - Walking into the Oxford Public Library, patrons are immediately greeted by a fresh, new lobby area that melds classic style and contemporary comfort with the convenience afforded by modern technology.
Mary Cowles, a clerk at the Oxford Public Library, does some work behind the new welcome desk. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
"It exceeds our expectations in many ways," said Library Director Bryan Cloutier. "It's been great. I have no complaints at all. The patrons have been very warm, welcoming and accepting of it. They like the design of it."
The library spent the month of May undergoing renovations that included re-carpeting all of the building's public areas, implementing a new checkout system for materials and renovating the lobby area to make it more efficient, attractive and user-friendly.
"The look and feel of this library is significantly different than it was prior to this (project)," Cloutier said. "It's amazing how even carpet patterns can change the look and feel of a building."
As a result, patrons are choosing to extend their visits.
"They were visiting the library before, but they were getting what they needed and then leaving," Cloutier explained. "Now, one of the things we are significantly noticing is that patrons are coming in, finding the items they are looking for and they're staying. They're staying, in some instances, most of the day.
"I have no complaints (about that) whatsoever. If they enjoy the library that much and they want to spend time here and they're comfortable here, that's what we're here for. We're happy with the fact that people are now utilizing the library at a different capacity than they were before and they feel comfortable enough to stay with us for hours on end. That's a great thing."
The lobby's old circulation desk was replaced with two new, custom-made desks.
One contains the new "express checkout" system. It consists of three self-check stations that enable patrons to borrow materials without having to rely on staff members to handle the transaction.
As part of the project, all of the library's nearly 94,000 circulating items had radio frequency identification (RFID) chips embedded in them. Each chip contains electronically-stored information that is wirelessly transmitted to the reader at the self-check station.
"It makes the checkout process very seamless and easy,' Cloutier said. "All you have to do is literally place the item on the pad and it's checked out. We're very happy with the results. We're happy our community has embraced the technology as well as they have."
"It's really cool," said Oxford High School sophomore Kate Marsh, who was using the new system last week to check out some books. "It's really easy and fast. You can get your books and just go."
The other new desk functions as a welcome area where patrons can pay fines, ask questions and deal with issues related to their account.
Library staff have the ability to check out materials at the welcome desk whenever the need arises or if a patron doesn't wish to use the self-check stations.
"Some patrons opt not to use (the self-check stations) and that's perfectly fine," Cloutier said. "We're not forcing you to use it, but we certainly appreciate (it) when you do take the time to learn and to use it because it is very user-friendly."
Both desks comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and are designed to be easily accessible by everyone from adults to children
"We've empowered (children) to actually play an active role in their library experience," Cloutier said. "That's always a good thing."
Cloutier made it clear the self-check stations were not installed in order to replace staff. They were installed so as to allow existing staff members to utilize their time in other ways that better serve the library and its patrons.
"It has freed up the staff in the support services department to spend more time behind the scenes, processing new materials and getting them out to the shelves quicker," he explained. "Before, we had a hard time balancing that and managing the demand in checkout."
The library had originally anticipated spending approximately $350,000 on the entire project. The money was to come from the library's fund balance (or reserves), which amounted to approximately $1.4 million prior to the project.
Cloutier didn't have the final cost yet.
"I don't have all the preliminary numbers yet because we still have outstanding invoices," he said. "I don't think we were over-budget. If we were, it was minimal . . . Overall, I think we stayed (within budget) or maybe came in a little under."
Cloutier noted the library's renovation project couldn't have gone so smoothly and yielded such successful results without the staff's enthusiasm and involvement.
"The staff has been overwhelmingly supportive of it," he said. "They were involved in the whole process from its conception to implementation . . . They've embraced it wholeheartedly."
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.