Hamilton's Public Library Board approved spending $35,000 to modify the rural Freelton library branch to operate extended hours without a librarian in the branch.
Presently, Freelton is open five days per week for a total of 17 hours. The pilot increases the staffed hours to 24 per week, and further hours in addition during which the branch will be remotely monitored by Central Library security staff, and Freelton library users will be able connect with a librarian via video conferencing.
Hamilton's Chief Librarian Paul Takala says the pilot is planned to begin in September 2017 and is designed to enable the library to better serve residents of the rural hamlets of Hamilton by extending rural branch hours.
Takala says the current limited hours are challenging for residents to pick up hold materials, and limit the opportunity for youth to use the library for studying and study groups.
Library Board members expressed concerns that the project could be seen as a means to replacement staff; Takala explained the branch will have a staff member on site six days per week for a minimum of four hours each day, and there will always be a librarian available by video conference to provide service.
Freelton's population is approximately 2,500, Takala told the Board. He says this makes it challenging to expand hours within the current budget and demands for service across the system.
Under the new model, which Takala says will be the first in Canada, users will access the branch with their library cards during extended hours, and be able to use all self-serve services such as wifi and checking out library items.
If successful, the Library hopes to expand the program to other rural library branches.
Takala says the project will not expand to Hamilton's urban library branches. A separate review of urban library hours is underway, and a report will come forth to the Library Board at a future date.
The timing of extended hours will be brought to the Library Board later this spring for approval.