As city recreation centers go, Grand Prairie, TX’s newly opened “The Epic” certainly lives up to its name. It features a primary 120,000 square foot building with a large fitness facility and indoor track; indoor lap pools; an artist studio with an artist-in-residence; a performing arts theater; an outdoor amphitheater; courts for basketball, volleyball, and more; a culinary arts room with regular demos and classes; a youth game room; and even a recording studio for local bands. Separately, the complex includes the Epic Waters indoor waterpark (with a retractable roof, arcade, and party rooms), and The Summit, another 60,000 square foot facility for active adults 50 and older.
When the center opened last November, visitors were greeted with “Epic Reads,” a library vending unit located prominently in the new building’s atrium.
From the outset of the new center’s planning process, which began in 2014, “we wanted to make sure we got public input, and [we] did a series of focus groups throughout town. One of the key components that kept coming up was a library element,” explained Amy Sprinkles, communications and library director for Grand Prairie Library System (GPLS). “Of course, as we tried to accommodate all of the wishes of all of the people, space planning became a challenge.”
Given such constraints, initially, the library considered designing a staffed kiosk that could be opened and closed during regular library hours, noted Peter Sime, supervisor for GPLS. But The Epic is open from 5:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with somewhat reduced weekend hours. GPLS ultimately decided it wanted to offer a solution that residents could access anytime they visited the center.
“It was going to be hard on a staffing level to figure out how to do this,” Sime said. “The center opens at 5:30 in the morning. When would we open the library? People in the [early] morning wouldn’t have access to library services.” In addition, The Epic “is the largest ‘life center’ in the country…. Everything in it is really innovative, so while [we knew] we were going to have a library presence in the building, we wanted something that was different…to give the center something as innovative as everything else in it.”
GPLS’s D-Tech lendIT unit offers a selection of 700 materials, including Playaway audiobooks and DVDs. It has a windowed front and lighting, so visitors can see the inner workings of the machine as it delivers items, which has helped draw attention in the weeks since launch.
“It creates its own ‘wow’ factor. People are really drawn to it,” Sime said, adding that GPLS has been pleased with how Epic Reads has managed to stand out within The Epic’s large atrium.
“We’ve graphically wrapped it and put a big header on top of it—a pop-up sign. So, it is definitely visible,” Sprinkles said. “We’ve primarily stocked it with bestsellers, movies, and a lot of audiobooks. The thought being, if you’re going to work out [at The Epic’s fitness center] you can just check out an audiobook, pop it in your ears, and go work out…. When you’re leaving, you can grab a DVD on your way out.”
During the first few days after the center opened, library staff were on site to demo the unit discuss how it works within GPLS, Sime said. But generally, Epic Reads will be unstaffed, visited six days per week during courier runs for restocking and picking up books and other materials returned from other branches. Instructional videos are available on the unit’s touchscreen if visitors need help.
New patrons can also use the machine to sign up for a library card. Applications filled out using the unit’s touchscreen are sent to a staff member at a GPLS branch for review, and a new library card barcode is issued via email, usually in time for the new patron to check something out before leaving the center. Epic Reads has issued an average of 10 to 20 new cards per week since launch.
The unit’s visibility also serves as a marketing presence for GPLS, Sprinkles said. “It reminds people who may not have been to the library in a while, ‘Hey look at that. I’m going to drop by main’…. It does keep us top of mind with customers coming in and out of the building.”
Since launch, GPLS has made a few tweaks to Epic Reads, most notably asking the developers at D-Tech to make it possible for users to search by media format or category. “What we found when people came to the machine when [The Epic] first opened was that they wanted broader categories,” Sime said. “Rather than wanting to search for a particular author or title, people wanted to know what DVDs were currently available, what audiobooks were in the machine, or what kids’ books.”
The library plans to refine the selection of materials offered by Epic Reads based on usage trends, and Sprinkles said GPLS will periodically send staff to The Epic to demo the unit and promote other GPLS services. So far, the vending unit is catching on with the new center’s visitors.
“It’s been a unique opportunity to try a new service model, and we think it’s going to be really popular,” Sprinkles said.