LIBRARIES GO HIGH-TECH

TagTron Solutions’ Managing Director, Daniel Zinner, shares some background on how technology is changing the face of libraries around the world

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What do you see as the major trends and challenges in the industry?

A major trend at the moment—one that is very challenging—is the move towards digitalisation of library material and online library collections that reduces the need for library patrons to actually visit the libraries. The challenge here is to keep the libraries relevant in today’s changing times and, at the same time, accommodate the move towards digital collections.

What are the key changes that you believe need to be made around South Africa in order to ensure the growth and development of the Library and Information Services sector?

Libraries need to be equipped with modern technology to make information readily available to those who don’t have access to computers at home or in their schools. The libraries in rural areas, where the basic services such as electricity are either not available or not stable in supply, somehow need to be upgraded.

Your RFID systems are incredible applications for libraries in terms of automation and user interaction. How important are these facilities in terms of user satisfaction and overall functioning of libraries?

TagTron Solutions finds that library users in general, once they learn how to use the automated equipment, enjoy the fact that they can check out their own books and return them without having to stand in a queue. The young people especially find this a great attraction, and are keen to participate in using the equipment where possible.

The larger libraries find that the flow of people through the library is quicker, smoother and less frustrating where the patrons are happily helping themselves when checking out their library books. Also, the staff are then free to be of more assistance on the floor rather than attending to queues of people.

How do you go about innovating and developing your own products?

TagTron’s manufacturing arm, Bell Oak Investment, together with TagTron Research and Development has designed, built and manufactured TagTron’s very own RFID library detection system, Izimibila, which, since its launch in November 2015, has been installed in over 13 libraries with confirmed orders for many more. This successful team is constantly working on the development of solutions to address identified needs and is bringing cutting-edge technology home to the local market and, in so doing, is able to accommodate uniquely South African requirements.

What process is involved with customising systems and installations for libraries, and where do you see the usual problems or areas of difficulties that libraries have?

Basically, TagTron takes into account the size of the library’s collection, monthly circulation figures and the demand for library opening hours. The larger the library and the higher the circulation figures, the more benefit can be obtained from automating the check-out and check-in function. This, in turn, relieves the pressure on staff and frees them up to give more in-depth support to the patrons and to be available on the library floor.

Can you quantify the benefits of having a fully integrated, self-service library using the latest products on the market?

A fully integrated, self-service library is not designed to cut costs in human resources per se, but rather to better utilise those resources in the fields of education and information. The more a librarian can be involved with the patrons on the library floor the better, playing his or her part in helping young people grow and learn or assisting entrepreneurs with access to the information they need to grow their businesses – this is how we see the automation of libraries being quantified – not in cutting staff or reducing manpower.

What is the number one issue for users currently?

The number one issue for users at the moment would seem to be user waiting time in the larger libraries, with access to information being the bigger issue in the smaller, more rural libraries.

How important are staff ergonomics in terms of the wider context of building an effective, world-class library facility?

Staff ergonomics are very important. The staff complement has to be comfortable and at ease in order to be able to offer the best of themselves to the library patrons who need their attention. Well-thought out and designed libraries, which take into consideration what is required of the staff during the course of their duties as well as what the patrons need and expect from their libraries and librarians will always make a huge difference in a society that has need for lifting up its people to achieve their goals and aspirations, particularly our learners and entrepreneurs.

How do your customers apply info derived from people-counters into running or designing the libraries?

TagTron’s People Counters provide easy and quick downloading of information on library usage. The times and duration of library visitors —when are the busy times, peak periods, quiet hours, et cetera. With strategically placed counters in the larger libraries, it can be discerned which areas of the library are most used at what times and on which days, et cetera. This information is very helpful when designing the ideal layout for libraries and where certain collections or library sections should be placed or made available.

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