The New Prague Public Library is the southernmost outpost of the Scott County Library system. It’s New Prague’s only library and sits in a park right on Main Street. In Le Seur County. Scott County? That’s across the street.
Kristy Rieger's office is 25 miles to the north, in Shakopee. She's the Library Technology Manager for Scott County Library. Rieger and Branch Manager Lori Weldon exude the pride and joy that come from doing work that’s important, and loving it all the while. Talking with them, you get the impression they’d personally staff the library 24/7, if they could.
New Prague’s population has doubled in the past 25 years, and the need for library services has grown with it. Job-seekers need computers, young parents need a constructive environment for their children, and community organizations need a place to meet. That’s where extended service hours come in.
Scott County is always looking for ways to get as much value from their buildings as they can, and when one of their former library directors saw the self-service model in action while on a trip to Denmark, it planted a seed. Later, in 2018, Scott County's partnership with the University of Minnesota’s Resilient Communities Project offered an opportunity to examine whether self-service could work at their libraries. Students at the University of Minnesota and at St. Catherine University conducted community surveys, interviewed library staff, and dug into Bibliotheca’s Open+ service. All their work shed light on the fact that few, if any, American libraries were offering extended service hours. But they also learned that the program could indeed work in Scott County, and their research enabled them to create a set of best practices to guide planning.
A pilot project scheduled for March 2020 at the library in Jordan was delayed to September 2021 due to COVID. For two months, planners urged the pilot group to poke holes in the service. What’s the experience like for patrons? What’s it like to find an item and check it out? What’s it like to try to print? Adjustments were made, and the extended service hours program was born. New Prague Public Library was the system’s third branch to extend their hours, following Jordan and Elko New Market. Planning is underway to extend the program to three more libraries, with Belle Plaine next on the list.
New Prague's extended hours are 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. every day of the year, including holidays. The service is membership-based, with checkouts and building access operating on Bibliotheca’s Open+ technology. Members must be 16 or older, and a parent’s signature is required for those under 18. To date, no applicant to the program has been rejected, and no members have been removed. Orientation videos and procedures are shared with members before they visit so they know how to get help if something isn’t working, and they know what to do if they feel unsafe. “Know before you go,” is Rieger’s mantra.
The library’s computers, collections, and study areas are all available. New Prague’s many early risers are taking advantage. So are commuters whose work schedules keep them away from home during normal operating hours. Remote workers can put in extra hours when their jobs demand it. Families with young kids have a safe, comfortable space where they can spend time. And instead of being greeted by the obligation to buy snacks at a convenience store or coffee shop, this space is filled with computers and library books.