In 2020-2021, NER supported the Matthews-Fuller Health Sciences Library (MFHSL) at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in efforts to enhance access to health information for library users when the information desk is not staffed. Amanda Scull, Head of Education and Information Services, was the lead for this project. This blog post is an excerpt of the Final Report for the project.
The MFHSL information desk is staffed Monday-Friday from 8 AM until 5 PM, but the space is open to and widely used by medical students, residents, nurses, and DHMC providers 24/7. Enhancing Health Information Access After Hours in a Hospital Setting consisted of two initiatives. MFHSL planned to purchase and install a set of digital lockers in the hallway outside of the library for after-hours pickup of checked out materials. The Library would purchase and set up a computer kiosk that library users could use to look up items, submit a research request, or find materials related to common questions.
The Dartmouth Library closed all locations in March 2021. MFHSL reopened in October 2021 with new protocols and restricted access. Access outside of staffed hours is not allowed and will be unavailable for the foreseeable future. This eliminated the need for a self-service kiosk during the funding period. Additionally, the cost of installing lockers outside of the library was higher than anticipated, which cut into the available funding allocated for the kiosk station. Instead, funds were allocated to the purchase of a second set of digital lockers which will be installed either at Dana Library (on the Dartmouth Library campus) or as a second set at MFHSL if demand requires it.
When users place a hold on an item, the email they receive notifying them that their hold is ready for pickup now includes a line indicating that they should email the MFHSL Circulation Desk email account if they would like their item placed in a locker for pickup. The information services staff check the item out, place it in a locker and set a code, and then email the patron to tell them which locker their item is in and what the code is. These items can be picked up any time regardless of whether the library desk is open since the lockers are in the hallway outside of the library. MFHSL marketed this new option through the weekly email sent to all hospital staff and list servs specific to nurses.
MFHSL expected the pickup lockers to serve nurses and other clinicians who were not able to visit the library during staffed hours. However, the lockers took on new importance during the COVID-19 pandemic as a contactless pickup option. MFHSL has been contacted by other libraries that are interested in learning how the project was implemented. Digital pickup lockers marketed to libraries tend to be very high tech (WiFi enabled, integrated into the ILS, etc.) and prohibitively expensive.
As libraries consider what pandemic-era services they will continue into the future, Amanda Scull highly recommends this convenient option for picking up materials after hours, particularly in a hospital setting. The MFHSL solution is “low tech” without annual costs for expensive digital equipment.