Branching Out: Boise Library Goes Digital at Airport 

"We're pretty sure that this will be the fifth one in the U.S."

Denise McNeley, library operations and outreach manager (left), and Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp (right) prepare for the installation of the library's new digital "branch" at the airport.

Laurie Pearman

Denise McNeley, library operations and outreach manager (left), and Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp (right) prepare for the installation of the library's new digital "branch" at the airport.

The exclamation point looked familiar, but almost everything else about Boise Public Library's plans and schematics for a digital library located in an airport was a game-changer. We shouldn't have been surprised. This is the same Boise Public Library that launched its now-extremely popular e-book program in 20101, imported the popular maker movement to Boise with its Mini Maker Faire2, created its own Comic Con3 and has installed not one, but two 3-D printers for the public's use4.

"We're pretty sure that this will be the fifth one in the U.S.," said Library Director Kevin Booe about the Boise Public Library branch that is suited to a specific customer in mind: the traveler.

It's true, the concept is rather new. In 2010, Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was the first ever to have a branch within its walls, but it was a traditional lending library. By the time the idea came to the United States--Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Manhattan, Kan.; Philadelphia and Seattle--the idea, much like libraries themselves, had gone digital.

"And that's where Boise's idea came from--when Rebecca came back from a trip where she came through the Philadelphia airport," said Booe, referring to Boise Airport Director Rebecca Hupp.

In February, when Hupp returned home from a trip that took her through one of the few airports in the nation with a digital library branch, she met with Booe in short order.

"She asked, 'Can we do that here?' I said, 'Absolutely. Why not?'" Booe said.

Now, less than six months later, that "absolutely" proved to be true.

"Honestly, it's a fairly minimal, one-time expense," said Denise McNeley, library operations and outreach manager. The necessary equipment--four desktop PCs and furniture--will cost around $11,100 (about $2,400 for computers and $8,700 for furniture).

"But this furniture will look so different than anything else at the airport," McNeley added. "This is not your typical business-like furniture. The airport has really given us free rein. They've been so great to work with."

The Boise Airport even gave the library three locations to choose from for the new digital branch. It chose a space at Gate 19, about two-thirds of the way down the B concourse.

"That's where Continental Airlines used to be," Booe said. "I really think it's a high-traffic area. A lot of folks seem to be waiting out there. It seems like a natural."

Unless you're traveling in and out of the Boise Airport, though, don't expect to use the library's new digital branch.

"This is primarily for the people who aren't aware of the library, or aren't aware that we have so many digital resources," said Booe, adding that the airport will use the digital branch as something to promote to travelers coming to Boise. "It really shows that our airport has a real variety of services. It's not about the hamburger and the Coke."

When someone approaches the digital branch, they'll see a table of 29-inch-screen PCs (all touch-screen, no keyboards), all accessing the Internet and loaded with digital content.

"There will be e-books for kids, magazines for adults, you'll be able to check your email and you'll even be able to get a temporary library card right on the spot," said Booe. "Plus, we're working on a tutorial on how to download e-books or music to your own iPad, Kindle or portable device. But again, this is really about those passengers who may not be accessing our library."

The Boise Library/Airport digital branch is set to officially open in late August, but travelers will begin noticing the service in the next week or two. They'll be more than welcome to try out the branch in a soft launch, to "help work out the bugs," said Booe.

"We're especially anxious to see how well the library sign-up will work. That's something we haven't done before," he added.

Booe said the library was even offered to install additional digital branches at two other locations in the airport.

"The cool thing is that it will evolve. We'll be adding more content and customizing," said Booe. "Let's see how successful this might be first."

1 BW, Find, "Free eBooks at Boise Public Library!," Nov. 17, 2010

2 BW, Culture, "Boise Mini Maker Faire Draws Out Local Creators," May 29, 2013

3 BW, Culture, "Pros of the Con," Aug. 28, 2013

4 BW, News, "3-D Printing: Idaho's Newest Dimension," Dec. 31, 2013

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