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Library Media Box and Other Vending Machines

   September 1st, 2011

Library Media iBoxMy friend Chris forwarded me a news story about a DVD vending machine being installed in the library in Strongsville, Ohio - but instead of a RedBox, it vends the library's DVDs.

Some libraries do have a RedBox, but that approach never sat well with me - it seemed like an uncomfortable competitive fit. But an easy-access vending machine that distributes library materials? Great.

I contacted the Cuyahoga County Public Library system for more information, and here's what I learned:

  • The machine holds 700 DVDs (or CDs, and larger capacity also available), and uses special black cases instead of regular DVD cases
  • Theirs is from Public Information Kiosk, Inc. (distributed by 3M), and they chose it over competitors (Brodart also has one) because they felt it had the most RedBox-like interface, thus should be easy for people to use. Also, PIK developed some custom graphics for them, and looks sleeker and snazzier all around, rather than just looking like a regular vending machine
  • The machine is indoor-only, so they placed it between the inner and outer doors of the library lobby - the outer doors remain unlocked 24 hours a day, so patrons always have access to the machine
  • It's still new to them so they're slowly rolling out features, but the machine is designed to handle checkouts, checkins, and even holds placed through the online catalog - neat
  • One drawback they have noticed is the machine's use of the company's own 2D barcode system, instead of the library's barcodes - this requires extra work in cataloging, and also causes some inaccuracies with records (showing the wrong cover art when there is more than one movie with the same name, movies showing up in unexpected places in the genre listing [ie, Wall-E listed as sci-fi])
  • More details on the product spec sheet [pdf]

This is the first of two machines they purchased, with an LSTA grant from the State of Ohio intended to explore ways to meet the needs of underserved patrons. These machines are ideal for serving patrons where a library branch can't be built.

The second machine will be installed in a local hospital, serving as another 24x7 library location. Similarly, a library in Iowa is considering installing one in the headquarters of a large local business - another nice example of bringing the library to the patrons (although it also sounds like something you'd find in the Googleplex).

These vending machines serve other uses too - after conducting a patron survey on how to deal with DVD theft, the Arapahoe Library District in Colorado in the process of installing installed them to help protect their collection.

Library Vending MachineAnd other libraries have been using vending machines for awhile. In Connecticut, the Oliver Wolcott Library has had one since 2010.

However, my favorite is what the Ottawa Public Library is doing - putting vending machines at their commuter rail stations and community centers (via).

In the age of downloadable ebooks and streaming video, using vending machines to distribute physical library materials might already seem outdated. But don't forget, public libraries serve a spectrum of patrons, all with different interests and needs. After all, despite the popularity of smartphones, our public fax machine is used just about every day (our microfilm machine and typewriter aren't exactly idle, either).

Anything we can do to make library services available outside the library's building and operating hours - in a variety of ways to meet a variety of patron needs - is a good thing.




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18 Responses to “Library Media Box and Other Vending Machines”

  1. Jeff Scott Says:

    Public Information Kiosk, Inc also makes the Brodart machines. Tulare County Library has opened three of the Brodart machines. Our intention was to make it easier than the Redbox because what you see is what you get. (I have a story about Redbox that I use, but will spare you in the comments.)

    http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/2010/11/cutler-lending-library-unveiled.html

    http://gathernodust.blogspot.com/2011/06/job-in-box-unveiled.html

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Jeff: Thank you – while comparing just the pictures online, they seemed to look like the same thing, but I couldn’t be sure. Interesting that one manufacturer uses different distributors for different product lines.

    Anyway, I fully get the advantage of seeing exactly what you’re getting – that is hugely important, especially if the vending machine is remote with no library staff around to handle problems.

  3. Nate Says:

    Wall-E is sci-fi, is it not?

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Nate: I think the library was expecting Wall-E to show up under Childrens, leaving sci-fi for more adult titles.

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  7. Matt Hamilton Says:

    Someone should probably mention that they’ve taken over 6 months (and counting) to get them working at Arapahoe Library District.

    My POW (who I am not speaking for, by the way, this is my own crankypantsiness) had a demo machine for six weeks.

    The second to last day it worked– for ten minutes.

    The last day they got it working again. For ten minutes.

    This machine is pretty, and a great idea, but the quality isn’t ready for public use yet. I am sad, because I was pretty excited about the possibility, too.

    I think the plain old vending machines, ugly as they are in comparison, are a better choice at this time.

  8. Sarah Elsewhere Says:

    We suspect that ours may be the unnamed Iowa library. Carnegie-Stout is located in the downtown area of Dubuque near the mighty Mississippi.

    On September 6th we’ll be installing our new Brodart Lending Library at the Hy-Vee grocery store on Asbury Road. This will provide a service point for our patrons who live on the west side of town. We’re adding a drive up materials return box as well!

    We plan to pack it with the latest best sellers and “hot” items that people are ordinarily on a waiting list for.

  9. Swiss Army Librarian » Library Media Box and Other Vending ... | SocialLibrary | Scoop.it Says:

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  11. Jeff Scott Says:

    @Matt It really depends on how the machine is set-up. We chose the Brodart machine because it doesn’t rely on a computer interface to make it work. If you want the book, you scan your card, you press the code for the book (A21) and you have the book. SIP connections have been tricky.

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  13. Emily Guhde Says:

    Love this! Makes me want to work for CCPL again!

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  16. kalgopia Says:

    Very good article. I saw this trend coming years ago. Thing is, we don’t need traditional libraries to do this. For example, Starbucks could buy and stock machines like this and put them in their shops or in the mall, open and free to the public. People could then buy some coffee and watch a DVD on their laptop for free. In other words, many businesses could use this as a draw. Is that legal? In the USA yes, you just need to make them available for free to the public. One could lend other things through vending machines too, such as toys, tools, games, and the like. Yes, communal sharing and automation is a trend to keep an eye on.

  17. Brian Herzog Says:

    @kalgopia: I agree – I think it’s just a difference between selling something and lending something (that someone needs to return). And since libraries are already lending things, giving patrons a way to do that 24 hours a day is just a bonus.

  18. Michele Bassan Says:

    Just pointing any interested party to also look at our website http://www.mediabank.net. We have already about 30 DVD/CD/Game/audiobook lending units of different capacities installed in North America. So we have a quite exensive experience accumulated in how they can be better integrated withina a libraries environment. We recently also introduced two models of machines for automated handling of books. One is similar in characteristics to the Brodart units, one behaves like the DVD machine but for books (handles up to A4 size)