Round Rock Library

A Library of Things – Not A New Idea, But One That’s Still Growing Up

Written by: Edward Y., Adult Service Manager

Round Rock Public Library is always seeking new ways to serve our patrons. This has meant over the last few decades adding items for patrons to check out besides the traditional book. Early examples were movies, (in the format of the era – VHS, then DVD, then Blu-Ray, then digital streaming files), audiobooks, puppets, and eventually basic computer devices, like Chromebooks. 

RRPL has taken this trend in more recent years to wonderful and surprising places. Laptop computers to use in the library or to take home, robot kits that are designed to teach kids computer language coding, board games, Hotspot devices that give users Internet access at home paid by the city’s budget, water conservation kits for upgrading faucets and commode components, and other similar items are relatively new additions. But we’re not stopping there, we still listen to patron suggestions and look to our peer libraries across the country for new ideas. 

These other U.S. libraries have added things you might not expect. Some offer cooking pan packs for the once-a-year bakers, others lend tools for vehicles, gardening, and housework. Musical instruments coupled with basic learner booklets, solder kits accompanied by how-to manuals and circuitry guides, even telescopes with star guides are a whole other category: expensive items that the library wants to give patrons the option of “try it before you buy it”, partnered with guides on how to use them. 

RRPL intends to add some of these fun ideas, but there are surprising complications when adding ‘non-traditional’ collections to a library. For one, where do we keep these things when they’re not checked out? Yes, RRPL has been very fortunate to get a great new building recently, but most of the shelf space is occupied with our current collections; the space we gained was mostly in work areas and conference rooms, not more space for items. So, we’ll have to find crafty locations to squeeze a sewing machine or guitar into. 

Also, how can these items be returned efficiently? For our patrons, we want them to have the convenience of returning their library items through the outside drop after hours, but the more alternative collections we add, the more things we have to require patrons return inside the building at the service desks. And this adds a complication for staff who will then have to abandon their post at the desk to bring the items to their storage place somewhere else in our 3-story building, since there won’t be room at those service desks for even temporary storage. 

Another consideration: how long of a checkout period is appropriate for these types of items? Finding the right balance between a patron having enough time to do a task or decide if they want to purchase the item for themselves after a library trial run and having the items get returned soon enough so that other interested patrons aren’t waiting too long is challenging. This is especially true for non-traditional items at the library; how much time is sufficient to decide if your child is serious enough about learning guitar to merit buying one? How much time should a patron have a sewing machine checked out, is three weeks enough time to complete an outfit? 

But these questions aren’t going to limit RRPL from adding more of these kinds of items. We’re planning on adding a few of these examples very soon, with the first choices most likely being cookware, such as cake pans, and a sewing machine. Then we’ll look into more complex kits like a home repair toolkit and a few basic musical instruments. Please let staff know at the 3rd floor what ideas you have for a growing Library of Things, we’d love to hear from you!

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