A blog from the Southern Ontario Library Service

Checking out books, not candy, at the Library vending machine!

Back in September 2016, St. Thomas Public Library launched its first Library Lending Kiosk at the local mall. I’m here to share with you our experiences throughout this process! So far, we have found it to be a great way to reach out to parts of the community who may not be able to visit our main location downtown.

The story begins at Super Conference in January 2016, where our Board Chair had the opportunity to see some of these library lending machines in action.  He was sold on the idea right away, and we were thrilled to have had such eager Board support when moving forward with this idea.

Library Vending Machine ImageOur Friends of the Library group decided to help us make the purchase, and covered the cost of the unit itself. The rest of the costs (the books and associated processing costs, the rent for space at the mall, the cost for the courier service, and the static-IP internet) were covered by the Library.

The vending machine itself looks just as you’d expect – instead of rows of candy bars, you have rows of books! It holds about 300 items, which is really about 30 titles with about 10 copies of each. As a patron, you can see all the titles in the machine, and can choose which one you want. All you have to do is scan your library card, choose the row, and then the book drops down, and is checked out automatically!

In terms of collection development, we are working closely with staff at Library Bound, who help us choose books that are new, but which also fit into the specific size ranges required for each row. Our Library Lending Kiosk has been functional for over 10 weeks now, and we’ve already found that it’s easy to identify circulation trends. Books that are affiliated with movies are circulating really well, like “The girl on the train”, “Me before you”, and “The light between oceans”. Others, like “Behind closed doors”, “The couple next door”, and “The nest” are also doing well. We will use this data to inform the choices we make for the next items we add to the machine. In 2017, we will update the titles in the machine more frequently, replacing approximately two titles per month. So far, we haven’t ever run out of any one title. We find that the books get borrowed and returned at staggered times, so you rarely see a completely empty row.

Right now, we re-stock the machine twice per week, and that has allowed us to keep up with usage so far. But in January 2017, we will begin a marketing campaign to spread awareness about this new service, and we may need to increase our weekly visits if usage increases as a result.

In terms of returning the books checked out from the Library Lending Kiosk – we placed a return bin right next to it at the mall. This is new – previously, every borrowed item had to be returned to the Library directly (as we only have one location), but now patrons can use this return bin for any borrowed items – not just items from the Kiosk!

Depending on how things go over the next year, we will be looking into purchasing a second unit, or perhaps a hold pick-up locker, to complement our current Lending Kiosk. What we have seen so far is that our community members are thrilled to have this new way of accessing the library, and we’ve been able to recapture patrons who stopped coming to the library a few years ago.