The San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) this month will unveil Connect at Central, a new 12,800 square-foot digital commons in the system’s main library. “Connect” will feature enhanced WiFi capabilities and a bank of 80 public desktop computers, 24 of which will be separated into a training center area for instructor-led library programs, digital literacy courses, and courses on other subjects such as resume building and job searching on the Internet.
The new area will also include a remodeled teen services department with 18 iMacs, and a technology test drive area allowing staff to assist patrons with iPads, tablets, and other electronics, as well as 15 laptops and 20 Google Nexus 7 tablets for checkout within the library. In addition, as a beta tester for OverDrive, SAPL will be experimenting with an installation of the company’s new OverDrive Media Station (OMS) interface on a ruggedized kiosk that could be deployed in public areas outside of a library.
SAPL will be featuring the OMS interface on a Zivelo M32 Floor Display, a pedestal-mounted kiosk made with an aircraft-grade aluminum enclosure. With swipes and taps that will be intuitive for anyone who has used a tablet or smartphone, patrons can navigate the OMS interface to explore a library’s collection of ebooks, audiobooks, music, and videos, and easily read or listen to samples, place holds, or have an available ebook sent to their tablet, e-reader, or smartphone.
When OverDrive begins its official rollout of OMS later this year, most libraries will likely install the interface on standard touchscreen computers such as the OverDrive-recommended Dell XPS 27, which are rugged enough for placement within staffed libraries. Zivelo units, by contrast, are designed for placement in high-traffic public areas such as malls and airports. For now, SAPL is planning to use the unit as a central station within its main branch, which receives 1,700 visitors per day. OverDrive will be watching how the unit performs, gauging the feasibility of OMS installations in public locations outside of libraries, which could be a marketing boon for libraries looking to promote ebooks and other digital content.
“It’s a public-proof hardware solution,” Steve Frank, product owner for OverDrive, said of the Zivelo M32 on August 3 during the “User First: Delivering on the Promise” session at OverDrive’s Digipalooza 2013 User Group meeting in Cleveland. “This is something that you could place in a mall, you could place in a museum.”
As an example of the idea’s potential, Frank noted that the Free Library of Philadelphia had recently marketed their ebook collections using billboards with QR codes in public transit stations. “Twenty-five titles is really nice, but wouldn’t it be nicer to have a public kiosk there with some animations and [access to] your entire collection? It’s a little more compelling,” he said.
SAPL Director Ramiro Salazar is expecting the OMS to be in high demand. In addition to the M32 unit, the library will also have 3 other standard touchscreen stations located throughout the main library.
“Folks will have an experience of actually previewing whatever items they might be interested in,” he said. “And they’ll have an opportunity to then send those titles to their mobile device and check them out from the library. We’re working with OverDrive to further develop the station.”
The new center will help the library fulfill significant demand for public computers and access to broadband Internet service, Salazar said.
“One of the very important roles that libraries play is trying to bridge [the digital] divide by providing access to broadband, access to computers,” he said. “In many of our branch libraries here, the demand for public computers is huge…. Walk into a library any day of the week, any time of the day, and you’ll see people utilizing most of the computers, if not all of the computers.”
Connect aims to address these needs in a comprehensive manner. The “test drive” area, for example, may get its heaviest traffic from older patrons who need assistance downloading ebooks or other content to a new device for the first time. The remodeled teen services center, meanwhile, was designed in an effort to facilitate “skills like collaboration, strategic thinking, teamwork, content creation, communication, and working with team members,” Salazar said.
SAPL’s print collection is more heavily used than its digital resources, but like many libraries, SAPL is seeing rapid growth in demand for ebooks and other content. Connect, Salazar said, “will allow us to showcase the vast resources we offer through the digital services unit. Not only ebooks—we currently offer over 30,000 titles—but all of the e-content that the library has to offer.”
Connect at Central was made possible by grant funding from the Federal Broadband Technology Opportunity Program (BTOP) given to the Texas Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) in 2010. At $1.18 million, SAPL received the second-largest distribution of those funds from among 38 Texas libraries. After matching the grant with $200,000 from its own internal resources, SAPL was able to develop Connect at Central and fund broadband enhancement projects at 13 of its 25 branch libraries.