or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Library Media Box and Other Vending Machines

   September 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

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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Redbox Rights and Wrongs

   February 23rd, 2010 Brian Herzog

redbox dvd rentalsI like to think I'm the kind of person open to the opinions of others, and I certainly don't expect myself to be right all the time. However, it's still rare for me to advertise when I think I am wrong, yet today is one of those days.

Last week my director received the following email from a patron and forwarded it to all the department heads to see what we thought about it:

Ms. Herrmann,

I just heard about Red Box doing a trial with Libraries across the country. This is a fantastic idea, there currently is no Red Box in Chelmsford Center. Attached is a link for you to look at.

http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2010/jan/27/henderson-libraries-become-redbox-locations/

In case you've never heard of Red Box, they are dvd vending machines which rent new movies at $1 per night. The machines are located outdoors and are available to the consumer 24/7. Red Box pays the library and also allows the library to free up cash from having to purchase current films.

It would be great if Chelmsford could get in on this trial!!

I had heard of libraries using both Redbox and Netflix, but never really gave it too much though. So I was kind of surprised at my response to my director:

Maybe this is just a reaction based on the kind of day this has been, but I have mostly negative feelings about this. Based on http://tametheweb.com/2009/07/01/red-box-rentals-at-princeton-public-library/ is seems any money we get is minimal, and I'm always reluctant to give
businesses a green light to target library patrons.

If we did put one of these in, I sincerely hope it wouldn't mean we'd be buying fewer DVDs and rely on this as a crutch, because just like Rosetta Stone, they can pull out at any time and we'd be left
scrambling to fill the holes in our collection.

Its biggest benefit would be providing patrons access to DVDs 24 hours a day, but it also means patrons have a reason to be at the front door 24 hours a day, doing who knows what - the police department might not like that idea. Then there's also the patrons who return the RedBox
DVDs in our dropbox, those who put ours into the RedBox, patrons demanding refunds and tech support from the circ desk, blah blah blah.

More reading on this:

I know Conway makes money off our printers and the FaxVend people do too, but RedBox feels way more commercial - like letting a dealership put used cars in our parking lot to make it easier for patrons to shop for cars. Or letting a bookstore set up a table of bestsellers in the lobby and sell books so patrons don't have to wait on a long reserve list.

I don't know exactly why I don't like it, but right now I'm leaning against it - but again, it might just my mood. Blah.

So my question is this: why I am wrong?

I don't feel like I'm right, because I can see positive aspects to a Redbox being in front of the library (especially for libraries that already charge $1/DVD), and it's unusual for me to be this negative. I don't think that every new idea or technology has a place in every library, but still, my answer on this surprised me.

So I thought I'd ask the wider library world for your opinions on Redboxes and libraries. Lots of good comments were posted on Tame the Web when Michael talked about this last year, but I'm still not entirely convinced. What do you think?



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Multi-Purpose Room

   December 10th, 2009 Brian Herzog

So, Tuesday's post about a library WIN is contrasted with today's library FAIL:

Picture by: dunno source Submitted by: Rick via Fail Uploader

This is the bathroom of a Library in the City of Mesa, Arizona. I asked where the vending machine was to get sugar for my blood-sugar level, and the employee said follow me. I followed her to the bathroom and was scared at first… I feared rape. Then I saw it… The vending machine was less than 2 feet away from the John… Awesome-sauce.

Seems odd, but the explanation is in the comments. Along these lines, we had a photocopier in our bathroom for about three months, which had its own story.

And "awesome-sauce" is my new favorite phrase.



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