24/7 access: an electronic solution for the COMET Library

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 31 (1)

Sally Bartlett
Head of Library and Learning Resources
The COMET Library
Luton and Dunstable Hospital
Lewsey Road
Luton LU4 0DZ

The combination of six interlinking electronic solutions provide a secure and efficient 24/7 library service for multi-professional health staff. The interaction of all key components: the self service unit, CCTV, RFID, the online library management system, the ID pass unit and the website offer library services ‘fit for purpose’ for the 21st century.


The COMET Library at Luton and Dunstable Hospital provides library services for staff who work in the Trust and those from

Luton and Bedfordshire Primary Care and the local mental health sector who choose us as their provider. The physical library space is small, comprising 3,500 books with 90 current journal subscriptions. Formal study spaces are limited to ten with eight seats for leisure reading. The IT facilities comprise 15 networked computers connected to a colour printer and scanner.

Two full time staff (a librarian and a library assistant) are available from 8.30 – 6.30 Monday to Friday. During unstaffed periods the library is open for study and full access to the resources.

Status in 2009

The library had a good reputation for providing efficient services but the facilities desperately needed updating. No one could recall the last time the library had been decorated and since the library assistant had been in post for over twenty years it said something about the state of the place!

However it was not only the decor, but the systems and infrastructure that also needed investment. A major design was put forward in the autumn of 2009 to create an area conducive to study, with modern shelving, open plan reception and work areas. The plan was turned down.

So creative thinking was required to move services forward and develop the area without incurring capital costs. Developments had to be paid for from within the limited annual budget.

Progress in 2010

The first step was to make the case to the accountants that the installation of a security system would save money. Stock losses were so great that we were able to provide statistics to illustrate that a system would pay for itself within two years. The quotations for a new security system included a self service unit, RFID and two CCTV cameras. This was the key to success and cause for much relief as once the accountants agreed this and in March 2010 we had the green light to start developments.

Not just a security system……………

Although the security system was a key component, other elements were crucial in providing seamless 24/7 access to library services.

  • This included development of the website and the library catalogue1, which enabled remote access to a multitude of requests, renewals, searches and efficient communication. The website currently needs further redesign but it does have functionality for completion of
  • request forms which are received via the library email inbox.
  • The CCTV cameras are connected to the security system. If the security alarm is triggered, several images are automatically e-mailed to the library inbox with date and exact time. By viewing the still images library staff can determine whether to playback the CCTV footage to see whether any resources were stolen. One of the reasons
  • we chose this particular security system2 was the company’s previous experience of installing similar systems for libraries at the University of Oxford. The system means that we can also record the footfall and if we wish we can look at an image of each entrant – very useful for reviewing usage and collecting data during non-staffed hours.
  • If the still images of culprits who set off the alarm are not identifiable, we use a combination of the camera footage (set to store seven days before deleting) and the ID security pass system (installed at the entrance) to work out the exact date and time of the incident. The Trust security team are then able to extract the name and department of the person’s identity.
  • The self issue system operates with RFID. Staff can borrow books, renew and check their account on the self service unit 24/7 or access their loan records, search, reserve and request books online. This is helpful not only for other libraries in the region but also for staff who are
  • not regularly on site, for example those in the Mental Health Trust and the PCT.
  • The online and self-issue functionality has given health care staff more flexibility, independence and convenience of access. The result has been a reduction in the number of incoming telephone calls related to routine renewal requests, releasing library staff to manage their time more efficiently. This is particularly helpful when there are a maximum of two library staff at any one time and the library is very busy with in depth enquiries.
  • What makes it successful?
  • The key factor is undoubtedly the combination of six components to make a complete solution for 24/7 library services. Most libraries have some solutions such as a security system with CCTV or a self issue system with RFID but the strength of this innovation is how all six interlink in providing an innovative and cost effective solution which has significantly improved the quality of service delivery in a small health library.
  • What evidence do we have?
  • During the three year period prior to this installation stock loss were between 25 – 30 %. This translated into approximately £30k worth of books. Based on these figures, the installation of the complete new system will pay for itself well within two financial years.

Previously most of the resources were locked in the library office with restricted (out of hours) access.Statistics show that the number of staff who come to the library has almost trebled in a three month period from an average of three hundred people per week to over eight hundred per week. Usage from staff off site has also increased. The response to the changes has also been extremely positive.

To the future

Our plans for the future include:

  • Developing interactive communication, particularly for staff off site who would like help with searches. For example we would like to offer webinars and other real time online communcation options.
  • Trialing and managing the hand held stock management unit and undertaking a full stock take. This will allow us to compare losses annually as the system is reported to easy to use.
  • Developing a marketing plan to further promote library services to those working in the surrounding NHS community.


  1. Heritage Library Management System http://www.isoxford.com/
  2. Plescon Security Systems  http://www.plescon.co.uk/
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