The Sterling Heights Public Library has a number of initiatives this year, including strategic planning, an online patron chat service and an anticipated bike rental program.

The Sterling Heights Public Library has a number of initiatives this year, including strategic planning, an online patron chat service and an anticipated bike rental program.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Library prepares for strategic planning, amenities

Bike rentals proposed, drone deliveries explored

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 27, 2022

 Colorful bicycle-shaped bike racks stand outside the library. Library Director Tammy Turgeon says she hopes to  start a bike-lending program by June.

Colorful bicycle-shaped bike racks stand outside the library. Library Director Tammy Turgeon says she hopes to start a bike-lending program by June.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

STERLING HEIGHTS — The Sterling Heights Public Library is looking to cyberspace and even the skies for new ways to innovate its outreach to residents.

During an April 12 special budget meeting, city officials discussed the library’s role in the proposed 2022-23 budget, as well as the amenity’s plans. City Manager Mark Vanderpool said the COVID-19 pandemic changed how people interact, and the library had to adapt to continue to reach its patrons.

“And they’ve been incredibly innovative and creative,” he said. “The library’s actually been on the cutting edge in this area.”

Library Director Tammy Turgeon explained that the library building underwent renovations during the COVID-19 pandemic, and staff had to adjust with ways to deliver materials and services. During that time, the library also made space for a new teen room, three new study rooms and a maker space, she explained.

She added that visits in person to the library in the past two months have doubled. According to the 2022-23 proposed city budget, library visits dropped from 149,962 in 2019-20 to 43,640 in 2020-21. Visits in 2021-22 were estimated at 100,000, and the library expects 150,000 visits in 2022-23.

“We need to move the library forward with a clear plan and focus for the next five years that takes into account the changing role of the library in our community,” Turgeon said.

Turgeon said the library has been doing a strategic planning campaign with Indiana consulting firm ReThinking Libraries that could guide the library’s future. The effort kicked off in March and is now in the data-benchmarking phase, she said. The 2021-22 proposed city budget allocated $9,500 for the consultant and strategic plan, and the 2022-23 proposed budget allocates $10,590 in “continued funding” for that consultant and plan.

Through the process, the library will seek input from focus groups and the broader community about their needs and priorities.

“What we will gain from this process is a focus on what the priority should be for our library services for the next five years and a structure for staffing to meet these community needs,” she said.

One of the new upcoming service amenities is an online customer chat service. Patron chat will be available for 96 hours per week via the library’s website and mobile app, and it will be run by staff from an outside company, Unique Patron Service Solutions, officials said. The 2022-23 proposed budget states that it is allocating $10,540 for this service.

Turgeon compared the chat feature to ones on retail websites that pop up and ask if the user has questions. She said the amenity could reduce the need for residents to call or email library staff, giving that staff more time to focus on serving the public inside the library building. She added that Sterling Heights will be Macomb County’s first library to offer this chat service.

And in addition to lending books, the library wants to try lending out bicycles.

Turgeon said the library has been working on a way to start a pilot program for bicycle lending at the library by June. The goal is to let patrons rent one of four bikes for up to two hours after showing their library card and signing a waiver, she said. The Friends of the Sterling Heights Public Library and Macomb Bike are making this program possible, she said.

“We’re close to launch,” she said. “Residents will be able to borrow a bike to cruise around Dodge Park.”

Increasing materials delivery options is another library goal, and the library is in the very early stages of exploring an aerial way of doing that. Currently, the library delivers books at the library’s curb, to homes and to senior facilities. But lately it has been considering a unique way to deliver those materials: drones.

“There are many advantages to drone package delivery,” Turgeon said. “These include reducing traffic congestion, reducing environmental pollution, reducing delivery times and reducing transportation costs.”

Turgeon described how the Police Department uses drones, and she said Alphabet Inc.’s Wing company has used drones for local government work by delivering books via drone before. There is no estimated timeline on when a program like this could start, as a city intern has been researching it over the last year, Turgeon said.

The drone system could someday become part of the home delivery service, Turgeon explained.

“The drone company would then receive the notice from the library about what materials would need to be sent and where. The drone company would either deliver from the library directly or pick up from the library and deliver from their site,” she said. “We would need to find a drone that has a round-trip length of 12 miles, so that, in theory, we could service the entire city from the library grounds.”

Turgeon said the idea is not ready to be implemented yet, and obstacles include dealing with feasibility, costs, privacy, staffing, weather and Federal Aviation Administration regulations. But she said she still finds the idea intriguing.

“Being ready for drone usage is an important focus as automated transportation and delivery becomes more commonly accepted,” she said. “This program and others that would involve drone usage should be reviewed in the upcoming years as the technology and public opinion advances.”

The City Council reacted to the library’s plans. Councilwoman Maria Schmidt said she, also, is intrigued by the drone idea, and she praised the bike rentals concept.

“I think it’s an awesome idea,” she said.

Councilwoman Deanna Koski said she likes the bike rental idea, too, and she wanted to know if the library needs more bike stands.

Turgeon said the rented bicycles will be locked onto the facility’s existing colorful bike stands, and she said the library circulation staff likes the idea.

“I was worried that they were gonna not be too happy about circulating bikes, but they’re really excited, too,” she said.

According to Finance and Budget Director Jennifer Varney, the library budget for the proposed 2022-23 fiscal year budget is $2.9 million, or 2.4% lower than the previous year due largely to lower part-time staff costs. The library is listed as having 13 full-time employees and 26 part-timers.

The city also intends to invest in the library with spending aimed at elevator upgrades, replacing shelving end panels and installing an entrance sliding door, officials said.

Learn more about the Sterling Heights Public Library by visiting www.shpl.net or by calling (586) 446-2665.