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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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.