Your Key to the Library: A Conversation with Becky Rowlands on the Role of Borrower Services
It's no secret: we love the Cambridge Public Library staff! From circulation to admin, facilities to youth services - the enthusiasm, warmth, and dedication of the library’s team makes Cambridge an amazing place to live, learn and explore.
The Cambridge Public Library Foundation is taking you on a virtual tour of the library and introducing some of the library’s superstar staff. Our next stop is Borrower Services with Becky Rowlands!
This week we’re excited to introduce you to Becky Rowlands! Becky oversees the amazing Borrower Services team that helps patrons navigate the library and reshelves the library’s highly sought-after materials. From the front lines to behind the scenes, the Borrower Services team is steeped in knowledge about the library, and we can’t wait to share this with you!
What is your position at the library?
I am the Manager of Borrower Services. I have worked at the library for six years now, and I love it! I previously worked at a much smaller library in Massachusetts where we used to handle five bins of materials a day compared to the 60 bins a day we see here, so coming to the Cambridge Public Library was a big, exciting change! I oversee a lively team of 20 people who are dedicated to helping patrons.
Could you please tell me more about Borrower Services and the important role your team plays at the library?
The role of Borrower Services is two fold: we are frontline staff welcoming patrons to the library and answering their questions, and we also work behind the scenes scanning materials back into the system and reshelving.
The Borrower Services desk is located on the left immediately when you walk into the Main Library, so we are often the first people that patrons see when they enter the library. We issue library cards, answer questions about patrons’ library accounts, help them check out materials and more. I like to think that by giving people their library card we are giving them their key to the library, unlocking the door and providing access to everything the library has to offer. Beyond books, patrons can use their library cards to check out magazines, e-books, DVDs, take out technology (which can be checked out at Tech Bar), and even STEAM kits!
The library has a broad range of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) kits that include non-traditional, educational materials that engage people of all ages and interests. When a STEAM kit is checked out, the Borrower Services team member goes through the STEAM kit with the patron, tells them how the kit is returned, and prepares patrons for the fun and exploration they are about to have! STEAM kits are available at all Cambridge Public Library locations and can be checked out by Minuteman Library cardholders.
We also connect patrons with other materials in the network by managing requests on library items. Patrons can pick up their books on hold at the ‘hold’ shelving area to the right side of the Main Library’s lobby. If you have a logistical question about a particular item you’ve borrowed, returned or requested, our team will happily investigate for you.
Could you please tell me more about Borrower Services’ role behind the scenes?
Members of our team split their time between working at the Borrower Services Desk and handling materials behind the scenes. Our library is a very high-circulation, high-volume library, and the Borrower Services team handles thousands of items per day, whether we are checking them out, checking them back in, or receiving them in delivery bins from other libraries. When library materials are returned, we rescan the items back into our system and reshelve almost all of the materials, except for books in the Teen Room and the Children’s Room.
Our team receives up to 60 bins full of materials per day from other libraries – that’s approximately 3,000 items per day just through delivery! Plus, two to three thousand more materials through check-in and check-out. Our goal is to have all materials reshelved in 24 hours of their return.
Borrower Services maintains a ‘Staff Picks’ display in the lobby that showcases books from the genre each staff member prefers, so patrons can see what staff gravitate towards based on their interests. The library has been doing this for about seven or eight years, and we are always encouraging new staff to participate! We also occasionally create fun pop up displays, like a display of Batman books that you can find by our self-checkout machines right now. Collection Services and Adult Services collaborate on the displays in the lobby area that feature the newest fiction and non-fiction titles, and Borrower Services assists with those as well.
Could you please tell us a bit about the lifecycle of a book?
The Library Foundation and a member of the Borrower Services team, Alden, recently collaborated to showcase the lifecycle of a library book. A book arrives at the library from a vendor and makes its way to Collection Services. Here, the book is given a sticker and is scanned into the library’s system that is shared by all libraries in the Minuteman Library Network. Collection Services then brings the new library book to find its home on the shelf.
Patrons can peruse the shelves to find a book, but they can also easily and conveniently place a hold on the next available copy in the CPL or Minuteman Library Network. You can place a request online, or call the library and our staff can help you out! Once your book has arrived at your library branch ‘hold’ shelving area, patrons can come within five days to check out the book. After it’s checked out, the book is ready to go home with you!
After finishing your book, it is time to return it to the library. When patrons put the book into the book chute at the Main Library, the book slides down the chute into a large red bin that is collected by Borrower Services. The book is then scanned back into the system and is returned to the shelf. Each item returned is touched by three to four people as it’s scanned back into the system, out on a cart to go upstairs, and reshelved. About 10% of materials returned to the Main Library have to be transported back to different branches.
As you search for your next read, Adult Services and Borrowers Services staff can answer questions, recommend books, and help you locate materials in the library.
[Editor’s Note: You can see the Library Foundation’s posts following the lifecycle of a book on our Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.]
What is your favorite part about working at the library?
I love the fact that we are not a quiet library. While there are dedicated quiet spaces in the library - like the Second Floor of the Main Library, which is a quiet floor and has an additional Silent Study Room - this is also a place where you can and will find unexpected things. A Thriller flash mob in the hallway, the Honk! Band playing in the lobby at our Summer Reading kickoff one year, a “laughing room” – set up like a sitcom set – in our Rossi meeting room - these are only a few things that have happened in the six years I’ve been here. I love that we mix study and research with singing, dancing, and laughing. The library has it all!
What is your favorite book?
One of my all time favorites is The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which I read for the first time at least 20 years ago. I find that book to be even more poignant and chilling since it’s set in and around Cambridge. I love Margaret Atwood’s style of writing, she is one of my favorite authors of all time!
Is there anything else you'd like patrons to know?
There are so many wonderful things about the library, and there’s a lot that I would like patrons to know about!
First off, it is absolutely free to use the library! You’d be surprised how many times we are asked “How much does a library card cost?” and we can happily say “Zero!” The library recently did away with overdue fines, so we are 100% fine-free and the Borrower Services team was key in delivering this good news to the community. This is an important step in the library becoming more equitable, and increasing access to the library for all users.
I also want patrons to know that you don't have to live in Cambridge to get a library card! There are nine library networks in Massachusetts, and as long as you live or own property anywhere in Massachusetts, the Cambridge Public Library is happy to give you a library card. Your library card will work at all libraries in the Minuteman Library Network, which Cambridge is a part of. Prior to the pandemic, library staff including members of the Borrower Services team went to the Alewife T-Station to get people excited about the library and show them how easy it is to get a library card!
Finally, we have certain technology and automated processes – like self-checkout and open holds – that’s designed to make it easier for patrons to check out their books. We always have plenty of staff who are happy to assist you with those things, too. If self-checkout is not your thing, or you have a question, you can absolutely bring your books to a person at the Borrower Services desk who will gladly check them out for you and answer any questions!
Contributions from the City of Cambridge and our generous donors support the library’s staff and their growing collection of materials. If you would like to support the Cambridge Public Library, please reach out to email@example.com.
The Cambridge Public Library Foundation is dedicated to supporting the Cambridge Public Library and its programs that educate, inspire and respond to the needs of our diverse community.