New Initiatives Grant Final Report

“Homebound Delivery Tablets”

Please provide a brief narrative explaining your project and its outcomes.

The Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL) has been offering homebound delivery to patrons who have a hard time getting to the library since 2019. During that time, we’ve noticed that some of our senior patrons drop out of the program because they can no longer hold the heavier weight of a large print book. Other patrons have interests that are so specific or niche that it’s difficult to find print materials for them. We thought loaning tablets to patrons would be a good solution to both of these problems. Tablets are easy to hold and weigh barely anything. We can customize font size, audio volume, and background color for all kinds of needs. Overdrive and hoopla provide us with a wide selection of materials to loan to patrons as well. We have a much larger pool of titles to offer now.

While NOPL Homebound Delivery does serve all patrons, our participants are mostly seniors with limited prior experience with technology. Our first concern was to make sure they would understand how to use their tablets when alone at home. Writing print instructions for accessing materials on the tablet ended up being one of the hardest parts of the setup process because we took for granted how much general understanding you need to operate a device. Factors we had to explain included what an “app” is or what the options screen looks like. The second tricky part is that many of the seniors enrolled in our program don’t have wi-fi at home, and you need wi-fi to download these items.

When setting up the tablets, we deleted default apps that weren’t necessary, so users only options are Hoopla or Overdrive. Before we deliver books each month, we select and download items at the library. The material is pre-loaded for patrons so they don’t have to worry about finding anything themselves. This improves ease of access and enabled us to have to clarify fewer steps with regards to using the tablets. It also bypasses any potential issues caused by a lack of home wifi for patrons. Each month we switch out a pre-loaded device for those patrons using this format, so they always have a tablet with material. We do have one patron who lives in a facility with wi-fi and helpful staff. She and the site coordinator work together to select her own materials. This system works well for them, and they are pleased with the service thus far.

We also ended up labeling every button on the Kindle Fire with non-destructive stickers. Seniors can find the power button and volume button with no trouble now. We labeled the covers heavily with as much information about the library as possible so they or their caretakers know to call us if they have any questions or issues.

There were some unforeseen hurdles we had to overcome to launch this service. Overdrive and hoopla both limit checkout numbers and each Kindle needed an Amazon profile. Because of this we had to create multiple separate Amazon and Gmail accounts. This allows us to keep track of items on a specific Kindle and allow a patron to have their full number of checkouts.

When selecting the Kindle Fire as the device to use for this program, we also did not consider that Amazon requires you to have a credit card saved on your profile in order to download anything.. We assumed that because the library apps were free we could just link them, but that turned out to not be the case. Ultimately we purchased $5 Amazon gift cards and used those in place of a credit card. We also saved the Kindles in child mode to prevent patrons from purchasing anything. But if that fails somehow, they can’t do much with only $5 associated with the account.

Finally, we’ve had to be selective about which patrons can have a tablet. We try to pick patrons that continuously return their library materials and have a real need for it. There are several patrons we considered, but they have the help or the finances to purchase a tablet themselves if they wanted one. So it is a useful facet of our service, but it’s not appropriate for all of our participants. If Kindles ever become affordable enough to offer more widely we would love to expand the program, but there are no definite plans for that currently.

Overall all patrons using the devices are pleased with their experience. We’ve been able to keep the devices in continuous use and have found that switching them out each month allows us to keep up with any updates that may be needed. That way our patrons don’t experience any interruption in the service.

What is the most remarkable accomplishment or finding of your project?

We’ve been really impressed that the seniors have been able to navigate this new technology with very little help from us. As experienced librarians we’ve offered senior tech help many times previously, and are aware of how nerve-wrecking picking up a new device or skill can be. But our homebound delivery patrons have managed this new technology without any problems. And they’ve all really enjoyed using it!

Please provide a brief summary of your evaluation activities and/or results, if available.

One of the nice things about only having a few kindle users is that we’re able to personally check in with them every month. They’ve all reported they like using the kindles and no one has come to us with any problems or questions. Our focus with these devices is ease of use and enjoyment, and so far everyone has been very satisfied. If we do ever receive any complaints or problems, we will be able to address them almost immediately.

Jen Tolley

Outreach Librarian, Northern Onondaga Public Library

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