April 23, 2014

Palo Alto City Library Uses Mobile App to Book New Study Rooms

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The Palo Alto City Library has two brand new group study rooms at its downtown branch, thanks to the completion last July of an extensive renovation. And now the library is tapping into an innovative technology to ensure those study spaces get the maximum use.

This week the library launched a pilot project with LiquidSpace, a San Francisco-based company founded in 2010 that offers a mobile platform that “connects people seeking workspace with venues that have space to share,” according to the company’s website.

For no charge and by following a simple Wizard setup, the library has listed its two study rooms, which can accommodate up to 10 people, with LiquidSpace. The listing allows potential users to see pictures of the rooms and book them for up to two hours from either the LiquidSpace website or mobile app or the library’s own website. The pilot will run until May 2012.

“For the library, I want to do three things:  make sure that the spaces are used as much as possible, find a way to more easily handle and manage room reservations, and introduce the library and its services to potential new users,” said Monique Le Conge, the library’s director.

“The Library had already started a partnership with Google Chromebooks, and this seemed like a mobile innovation that would work for us,” she said.

Previously, anyone wanting to book a room would have had to call Le Conge’s assistant, who would have reserved the space on an Microsoft Outlook calendar. That is all bypassed now. Each venue has its own bookable calendar that shows real-time availability and can be accessed any time of the day. The library receives a copy of all reservations but no longer has to coordinate availability. The public can use the rooms during the library’s open hours, but library and city staff can make reservations for closed hours based on a different coding system within LiquidSpace.

The user must come into the library, check in at the desk, and have a copy of the reservation and “a venue code,” which is a unique identifier to prevent someone else from using the reservation.  Users have to follow the library’s study room guidelines.

“There is a lot of productivity gained by simply providing the community and city employees the ability to reserve space online or from their mobile devices without needing to pick up the phone and call the library administrators,” said Jonathan Manheim, the head of business development for LiquidSpace.

Manheim said libraries are fertile grounds for this kind of service, given the growing mobility of the workforce and the need to find spaces to work in.

“Through LiquidSpace, these great public spaces can now be presented side by side with other privately owned spaces, like hotel meeting rooms or office business centers, to remind the community about them and make it just as easy and simple to reserve a public space as it is to reserve a private space,” Manheim said.

Before the renovation of the downtown branch, there were no meeting rooms or group study rooms in any of the system’s five branches, but that is changing rapidly.

“We have a new building opening in 2012, and another renovation to be completed in 2013 or 2014, both with four or more rooms that can be reserved,” Le Conge said. “I wanted to test a system that might work for all of these future uses.”

The library’s test could also benefit other city departments: Tommy Fehrenbach, the city’s economic development manager, brought LiquidSpace to Le Conge’s attention this past autumn because he sees possibilities on a citywide scale, Le Conge said.

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Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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