26 October 2010

Robo Library

WSJ | Conor Dougherty | New Library Technologies Dispense With Librarians

Hugo, Minn.—In this suburb of St. Paul, the new library branch has no librarians, no card catalog and no comfortable chairs in which to curl up and read.

Instead, the Library Express is a stack of metal lockers outside city hall. When patrons want a book or DVD, they order it online and pick it up from a digitally locked, glove-compartment- sized cubby a few days later. It's a library as conceived by the Amazon.com generation.

Faced with layoffs and budget cuts, or simply looking for ways to expand their reach, libraries around the country are replacing traditional, full-service institutions with devices and approaches that may be redefining what it means to have a library.

Later this year Mesa, Ariz., plans to open a new "express" library in a strip-mall, open three days a week, with outdoor kiosks to dispense books and DVDs at all hours of the day. Palm Harbor, Fla., meanwhile, has offset the impact of reduced hours by installing glass-front vending machines that dispense DVDs and popular books.

I'm surprised and pleased that the ALA is customer-focused enough to embrace this.
"It's real, and the book lockers are great," said Audra Caplan, president of the Public Library Association. "Many of us are having to reduce hours as government budgets get cut, and this enables people to get to us after hours."
Not everyone is on board, of course.
"The basis of the vending machine is to reduce the library to a public-book locker," Mr. Lund [director of the Red Wing Public Library in Red Wing, Minn.] said in an interview. "Our real mission is public education and public education can't be done from a vending machine. It takes educators, it takes people, it takes interaction."
Now I don't want to bad mouth librarians as a group, especially because Mrs SB7 worked her way through grad school as a librarian, and her co-workers seemed to be on whole quite lovely people. But the people I interact with in my local library are barely a cut above my local DMV employees. Swap out the DMV drones drive time talk radio with some NPR, add in a dash of cardigans and heap of reading glasses, and you'd have the MCPL: slow, surly, unhelpful, incompetent, and generally indignant that any patrons would want them to do their jobs. The number of things I've been educated about by a library staff is immeasurably small compared to the things I've learned about from the resources they lend out.


  1. ahem, NOT a librarian, a circulation desk assistant.