Since 2009, when The University of Manchester Library published its New Directions 2009-2012 strategy, the Library has sought to “embrace technology… to improve the experience of customers.”
With this in mind, the last three years have seen the launch of many new innovative services including:
- Library portlets in My Manchester, the University’s student and staff portal
- the expansion of self-issue and return of books including the implementation of a high capacity book sorter
- the expansion of group study room provision managed by room booking software and access control
- the introduction of new entrance and exit gates in the refurbished Main Library
- the introduction of mobile enabled interfaces to many of its systems
- the launch of a new Library discovery service.
Underpinning all this is a desire to make better use of data to understand better how our services are used and how they could be improved. When the Sentry User Group met at the University’s Manchester Museum in December 2011, the Library had the opportunity to showcase some of these developments given the Museum’s proximity to the Main Library building. It also enabled Library staff to get feedback from colleagues from other institutions and to find out about new developments from the developers of Sentry.
Sentry Isis is an access control system developed and Integrating access control with library systems and services supported by SB Electronic Systems Ltd. also known as Telepen. Sentry Isis is used within the Library to manage access gates at various Library sites. Sentry Isis Secure Room Booking is used by the Library to provide booking and access management for its range of group study facilities. In the coming months the two systems will be implemented in the University’s new dedicated study facility, the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, due to open this autumn and managed by the Library.
Around 50 users attended the User Group from a range of further and higher education institutions. Held every two years, the event provides the opportunity for Sentry customers to discuss and promote developments of Sentry based services, for Telepen to flag possible initiatives and seek feedback and for third parties to highlight new services of relevance to Sentry users.
The Library has, for some time, been looking at how better to manage the issuing of temporary passes to external Library users, to Manchester students who have forgotten their University access card and to contractors and visitors to the Library. A session at the User Group, run by myself and June Howarth from the Library’s Customer Services team, gave us the opportunity to propose developments in Sentry that could meet our requirements and for us, and Telepen, to assess interest and requirements from other institutions. The proposal includes the provision of a self-service kiosk that will integrate with the Sentry user database (which in turn is integrated with the Library’s Library Management System, Capita Alto) to issue a temporary pass that automatically expires at the end of the day. The overall proposal was well received and Telepen committed to going away to consider development of this functionality. A session in the afternoon from Alan Elkes, Sales and Marketing Director at Telepen, outlined the increasing availability of reliable fingerprint recognition systems to manage access, providing another alternative solution to the forgotten card problem.
A lunch-time tour of the Main Library building provided us with the opportunity to demonstrate some of the new technologies introduced over the last three years. The entry and exit gates installed in 2009 have recently been upgraded to include new customisable display screens (demonstrated by Telepen at the User Group morning session) that better manage the flow of customers into the building and provide the opportunity to display customer specific information driven from our Library Management System (functionality we are yet to take advantage of). A kiosk near the gates provides an interface to the group study room booking system (students can also get access through My Manchester), showing room availability and allowing students to book a space. The tour continued up to the second floor of the Library where 14 group study rooms were opened in 2009.
Each room includes audio visual equipment and access is managed by automated door controllers driven by the Sentry system (group study rooms and managed study spaces at other Library sites use the same room booking system but do not use the automated door controllers). Back on the ground floor we demonstrated our new self-service issue machines and returns book sorter, recently purchased from the company 2CQR.
The afternoon session of the User Group included a presentation from Karen Reece, Head of Sales and Support at Capita Software Services, in integrating Sentry with a Library Management System. The session included consideration of combining data from the two systems, giving libraries more powerful management information. As indicated above, using management information to better understand the use of our services is a key requirement for The University of Manchester Library and so the combining of usage data from different systems is very attractive. The Library uses Capita Decisions, based on the management information tool, Business Objects, to analyse data from its Library Management System, and this has been combined with data from the Sentry database to give a better understanding of the use of services by customers. The University of Manchester Library, as is the case with many other HE and FE libraries, is looking continually at how it can develop and integrate its systems and applications to provide better services to its customers, working closely with vendors when appropriate.
Access control in the Library has, over the past three years, developed from simply managing access into a building to supporting a wide range of new services and to providing management information that improves our understanding of our customers’ behaviour. The Sentry User Group provided an excellent opportunity for us to feed into future developments in this area and to learn about the innovative developments taking place in other institutions.