A Twilio-Powered Solution for Libraries: Central Library Consortium's Voice Broadcasting App

Learning, exploring, questioning and doing are all big parts of our culture at Twilio, and there are few places that promote this approach to life as much as our local libraries. Libraries bring people and ideas together, and make knowledge accessible to everyone. Nearly three-quarters of all U.S. libraries provide the only source of free access to computers and the Internet in their communities. So we were delighted to learn that libraries around the country are building communications solutions on the Twilio platform that are more flexible, easier to use and cheaper than what the libraries used before. In these tough economic times, every bit of savings helps. We’ll be highlighting some library case studies on the blog, starting with Ohio’s Central Library Consortium.

The Central Library Consortium was founded in 1987 by its member libraries to establish and maintain a computerized library network. The network is designed to promote resource sharing and increase access to information for library patrons. It currently serves 207,920 patrons of eight member libraries in six Ohio counties.

The Challenges of Voice Broadcasting Hardware

The Consortium had been using an on-premises voice broadcasting service to notify patrons when materials they’d requested became available and to deliver overdue notices. But the automated phone system was unsatisfactory and the vendor required the libraries to spend as much as $10,000 for an upgrade that would provide the software fixes the Consortium required.

Wes Osborn, the CLC’s Systems Administrator, decided to look for voice broadcasting software that was flexible, easily customizable and could scale to handle more than half a million voice notifications a year. Because a significant number of the member libraries’ patrons lacked reliable access to the Internet, the CLC wanted to make sure the new system could dependably deliver the information they needed to any kind of phone.

The Cloud Communications Solution

After discovering Twilio’s Cloud Communication Platform, Osborn decided to use it to build a new voice broadcasting app in the cloud. CLC’s in-house Web developer Mike Fields created a voice broadcasting app that integrated seamlessly with the library’s database so that each record would automatically be updated after a call was completed. Total development time took about two months.

“Using Twilio’s APIs to place the calls was the easiest part of the entire development process,” Fields said.

In the first month, the Consortium delivered 21,000 calls, the majority to patrons who were waiting for an item they had placed on hold. The return on investment was almost immediate. By eliminating the cost of maintenance for the old on-premises system, as well as the cost of analog phone lines, the cloud-based voice broadcasting app saved the consortium 40% per month in communications costs.

The new app is also more flexible and much faster. Every morning it automatically queues up the day’s messages and then places 500 to 600 calls in just three minutes. Using the old system, this same process took several hours. All voice messages are delivered using Twilio’s text-to-speech engine. The app also uses Twilio’s ability to detect answering machines to provide customized messages depending on whether the call is answered by a person or a machine.

With Twilio, the CLC was able to get the functionality it needed without having to pay for a costly upgrade. The results have prompted the CLC to consider extending the capabilities of its app to integrate automated renewals for patrons who get calls about overdue items.


  • The customer’s existing on- premises voice broadcasting solution was unsatisfactory and unreliable. The maintenance and upgrades required to fix it would have cost as much as $10,000.
  • The Consortium replaced the system with one it built on Twilio’s Cloud Communications Platform.
  • By replacing the system, the Consortium reduced its monthly telephony costs by 40 percent, because it no longer had to pay for license fees, maintenance or phone lines.
  • A task that once took several hours each morning is now completed in just three minutes.

Please see our story on the Tampa Bay Library Consortium

  • Io

    You neglect to mention how much it cost in the end: I sincerely doubt that a developer like Mike Fields would take on 2 months of work for less than $10,000.

    • I think you might be missing something, which is that Matt is already a full time employee at the library – so there was not an incremental increase in cost to the business, and he would have had to deal with solving this problem either way (whether he built or bought a solution).  In this case, building gave them more control at less cost in the long term, even though it required him to dedicate more time to it in the short term.

      • Io

        I’m sure giving up an antiquated and broken legacy solution in preference of Twilio is beneficial and totally worth it in the long term, but the article harps on the $10,000 price as a selling point, whereas it’s not as if the trade off was between (a) $10,000 and (b) free custom Twilio app from heaven. You guys are great, I love you, and I love libraries, but developer time has to be factored in when you’re comparing price points.

        I’m a developer, though, so I might be biased.

        • Wes Osborn

          Over the long run, it is still saving us money.  It saved us a $10,000 upgrade this year AND it is saving us about $2,000 – $4,000 every year because we no longer have to maintain any equipment, telephone lines, pay annual software maintenance, etc.  Mike was able to customize it to meet our libraries specific needs, which we were never able to do with the previous software package.

          Plus we are VERY fortunate to have Mike working for us in-house and while this was his main focus for those 2 months, he was still working on other projects as well.

          But yes, development time isn’t free.  We’re hoping to be able to open source our solution later this year so other libraries can implement the Twilio solution at their organizations without starting from scratch.

          Thanks for your comments and for your support of libraries!

        • Ah I see what you mean and how it might be perceived that way.  Definitely don’t want people believing developer hours are free – that leads to all sorts of confusion.  As we write more stories about our customers I’ll make sure to keep that in mind and make it a part of the overall cost of ownership rundown.  Thanks!

    • Wes Osborn

      One more thing worth mentioning.  The change also means that we no longer have to deal with the oddities of ATT’s billing department.  The value of that alone is almost in incalculable ;)

  • John

    how can i learn to do this for my organization

    • Wes Osborn

      We implemented this solution against the Polaris ILS using their Restful API service.  If you’re using Polaris and would like more details, get in touch with us via the Contact Us section of our website.