Library vending machines? According to this story, it’s a comin’ thing:

Changing demographics and difficulty securing new funds for new libraries, The Pioneer Library System in Norman, Oklahoma decided to to use technology to meet its patrons [sic] needs.

So last week, it opened the first 24-hour library vending machine in the United States. Built by EnvisionWare, this fully automated machine will be able to to dispense more than 400 pieces of media (books/DVDs/audiobooks) and store more than 1000 returned items.

The city of Norman, OK is buying two of these machines for $200,000 each, which is a way to extend their reach without building new branches.

My first thought was that this is a ridiculous and expensive application of automation with a limited stock that would make it of minimal usefulness.

When I looked at it a little closer, however, I saw it as an effective solution for putting down a library footprint in an places without a branch, particularly in rural areas and urban neighborhoods without their own libraries.

The machine offers more than just a small supply of books to choose from: it allows for holds, pickup, dropoff, and full access to the library computer, as well as a WiFi hotspot. My library use is almost completely limited to requesting titles from within our county system, and then picking them up a few days later. Twenty-four hour access to this kind of service in an area with no other library facility is a good thing, and if the machines are well-made with a long enough lifespan and reasonable service costs, it could be a decent investment.

I went into this one a skeptic, and came out a believer. Extending the reach of libraries is always good, and if this is a sound, budget-conscious alternative, I can’t fault it. Libraries are free knowledge. We need that, now more than ever.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    Color me skeptical, but I’m really glad they’re finding ways to re-purpose all of those ancient IBM mainframe tape backup systems.

  • Manny

    I clicked the video a skeptic as well and by the end became a believer. I don’t know how many books it could hold, but I bet there’s a need for that. Somehow I doubt it would hold books I might want to take out, but what if they coupled it with a computerized/internet request for a particular book and it showed up in the machine two days later? I bet I could put that to use.

  • Maggie Goff

    Tom, you probably know that you can get interlibrary loans from outside your county system. Almost every library in the US participates, including Universities. 99.99% are free of charge.

    While pretty much my favorite place is a library, with the cutback in hours this is a very good program.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    That’s already part of the system according to the specs: holds/requests. Workers file them and patrons can retrieve them 24/7.

  • Manny

    Oh cool. Then it is a really good idea. I wish they would come around my neck of the woods.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Outside the county loans cost $1.

  • Maggie Goff

    I’m sorry about that. I worked in the city library here and got interlibrary loans through the county from all over the country. We and they (the county) didn’t charge for it. Some of the loan libraries did, but normally the book or magazine, or dvd or whatever, could be gotten elsewhere for no charge.