Evidence A: Emerging Technologies

Technology Proposal for San Diego Public Library

According to their website, San Diego Public Library (SDPL) System consists of 35 branch libraries, an adult literacy program called READ/San Diego, and a brand new, state-of-the-art Central Library located in Downtown San Diego. The SDPL boasts of 5.6 million visitors, over 1.3 million resident library users, as well as free educational and cultural resources. Its collection contains more than 3.8 million books including e-books and audio-visual materials, over 3,000 periodical subscriptions, 1.6 million government documents, and over 250,000 foreign language books.

Indeed, their services are rich and encompassing. Yet today, people want things instantly and at their fingertips, judging by the increasing popularity of web searches, social media, online shopping, and digital books – all available through your Smart Phone. Although the SDPL has many users coming into one of the library branches to access its vast resources, it lacks a strong community outreach presence outside of the library walls to the average resident or person on the go. The $185 million dollar nine-story Central Library near Petco Park officially opened its doors on September 30thof 2013. It was a project long in the making, with many proponents arguing that it was time to replace the old aging location several blocks away on E. Street. Planning began in 1983 for a new and bigger library building[1]. It marked a new era for the SDPL, continuing to offer “core services, while adapting to [sic] evolving internal and external environment… including literacy leadership, creating inviting community spaces, and making connections to knowledge and each other[2].”

Although the new Central Library project was one hundred percent already funded by a past tax ballot and philanthropic donations from supporters, it drew divisive reactions from the public in light of city budget crisis and a country in a recession. Part of adapting to the external environment and making connections involves community outreach, in order to encourage members of the community who don’t normally visit a branch library to utilize library services.

The SDPL hosts many free events including author talks, book club meetings, after-school tutoring, computer classes, yoga, tax preparation lessons, and concerts. Although the SDPL offers an extensive digital e-book collection through Overdrive and several online databases, it lacks a physical presence outside of the library walls. Its bookmobile program was originally designed to reach a wide area of people out of reach of branches. It made regular appearances at community events, senior centers, shopping centers, public parks, as well as schools. The bookmobile program ended in 1997 after a 49 year-run.[3]

To increase community awareness and outreach, I propose that San Diego Public Library system adopt the model perfected by Redbox, vending machines dispending DVDs and video games but this time, for books. It is a new and different book delivery system that libraries can employ. Advertising itself as America’s destination for movies and video games, Redbox has rented over 3 billion discs to date through its 35,900 locations. Their service is considered convenient, offering kiosks “where consumers already shop.” Redbox users can return their rentals at any kiosk as well as order items online for guaranteed pick-up.[4] Vending machines such as those operated by Redbox have become an increasingly popular business model.

Vending machines dispense more than snacks and drinks these days. Today, people can locate vending machines that dispense electronic gadgets (Best Buy or Apple), beauty products (ProActiv), and even freshly made burritos (BurritoBox). There are over 29,000 vending machine businesses in the United States. WeGoBabies dispenses baby gear to parents on the go. Bypassing a trip to the pharmacy, InstyMed dispenses medication prescriptions right in the doctor’s office. Let’s Pizza will dispense a freshly made pizza in less than 3 minutes.[5]

But books are harder to locate even in metropolitan areas. Independent book stores and larger chain stores like Borders have disappeared from major shopping centers and strip malls. Barnes & Noble currently operates only 12 stores in the San Diego-area. Having public library presence in busy locations, even in areas where there is a branch location will be a touchstone in the community

I propose that San Diego Public Library system purchase and operate 24-hour automated book vending machines for public use. Instead of the latest DVD release from Disney (although that can be an option in the future), the vending machine will turn into a ‘lending’ machine and dispense the latest number one best-selling novel through a slot in the front – similar to an ATM. There are minimal staffing costs with the added ability to place one of the portable machines in a high traffic area as a marketing strategy to members of the community. It is recommended that training be provided to library staff regarding the machines, and non-library staff that will be working with the machines for maintenance and re-stocking.

Book vending machines are quite popular overseas in Europe[6] as well as China.[7] They have recently gained more traction in the United States though. A full-service library company, Brodart operates Brodart Lending Libraries, which debuted at American Library Association’s 2010 Midwinter Conference. A basic Brodart model starts at $17,000 although custom add-ons and services can cost thousands of dollars more. Users can browse among a selection of books and swipe their library card at any time of the day to borrow a book using this technology.[8]

The nation’s first 24-hour library vending machine was put into service by the Pioneer Library System in Norman, Oklahoma to meet patron needs. The Pioneer Library System has two fully automated machines in service. Created by Envision Ware, each machine is capable of dispending 340 books, DVDs, or audiobooks, and store over 1,000 returned items. Although the Envision Ware version with a 32-inch color touchstone screen, which also allows users to also pick-up holds and pay fines, cost $225,000 each[9], there are less expensive and more scaled-down versions available. Envision Ware’s service-oriented vending machine technology also allows for OPAC browsing, reserve selection, and program information.[10] The 7,000 pound machines are secure, built to withstand both rain and snow, and designed for installation at both library branches (for 24-hour holds pick-up) and remote locations such as city parks, malls, or transit centers. Envision Ware advertises its services as an alternative to bookmobile programs, with less liability, lower operating costs, and 24-hour service to communities instead of a few hours a week or month. [11]

Other public library systems are both considering and planning to operate vending machines such as these in the future.

A handful of public library systems across the county already utilize vending machine technology. In Southern California, Fullerton Public Library (FPL) users can utilize a book vending machine named FPL Station conveniently located Downtown at the Fullerton Transportation Center Station, which connects Amtrak, Metrolink, and local bus transit, to check-out or return books 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their machine was purchased from 3M’s Public Information Kiosk, Inc. Installed in the summer of 2012 and funded by a Library Services and Technology Act Grant awarded by the California State Library it is the first of its kind in Orange County.[12] Although anyone with a FPL library card can use the machine, the new technology is aimed at commuters, the “bibliophile on the go, but no time to indulge with a stop at the Fullerton Public Library (sic).” The machine can hold 500 books and is fully integrated with the FPL’s ILS.[13]

The $35,000 machine stocks a variety of hardcover and paperback books, altered according to what is most popular with users. Maureen Gebelein, Fullerton’s library director, calls it an experiment in trying to reach people where they are. Users can also return books at the machine but hold requests are not honored.[14] Books in the FPL machine are randomly displayed though. Set up like a snack machine, users have to choose a title from what ones in the front of the glass screen. Users cannot view what is in the slots behind the front rows.

In Northern California, the Contra Costa County Library (CCCL) operates three Library-a-Go-Go automated book vending machines which were first installed in May of 2008. They gained national attention, winning an award from the American Library Association for its innovative use of cutting-edge technologies in library services for using “fully automated touchscreen materials-lending machines to provide stand-alone library services in non-library environments”.[15] Two of the machines are located at public transit centers while the third is at a shopping center.[16] The Library-a-Go-Go machines allow its users to use a touchscreen to select from among 400 books. The touchscreen machines are kept regularly stocked by staff members and require little maintenance or upkeep according to CCCL’s Deputy Librarian Cathy Sanford. Although their circulation shows a sharp increase in e-book rentals and a drop in Library-a-Go-Go use, the machines are still popular and useful.[17] Many people prefer the physical book and not everyone can afford an e-reader.

The machines carry a self-contained collection of both RFID-tagged fiction and non-fiction titles, delivered to the user via robotic arm. Users can also return items to the same machine. The CCCL borrowed the idea from the Stockholm Public Library in Sweden whose book-vending machines were the only ones so far that were designed to connect to an integrated library system. Although the machines cost $100,000 each, the CCCL was able to purchase their machines due to grants from California State Library, Bay Area Library and Information Systems (BALIS), and collection donations from Baker & Taylor, Inc. [18]

Book vending machines are in line with the SDPL mission statement “to inspire lifelong learning through connections to knowledge and each other.” A few of the mission statement goals are to encourage discovery by all members of the community, providing innovative library services, improving delivery of information and operating hours, as well as incorporating state-of-the-art technology to optimize efficiency . Another is to increase the accessibility of materials to meet the needs of the community.[19] Having automated library systems in high traffic areas to patrons within the community, outside of the library branch walls accomplishes the above.

Selecting which brand of machine from among several vendors, and what services or options to select with the machine can become quite complicated and affect patron use. When comparing book vending machine products available, several factors stood out among the United States vendors. There are some international ones such as ST LogiTrack of Singapore (Smart Dispenser model), Distec of Sweden (Bokomaten model), MK Solutions of Germany (LibDispenser), and Shenzhen Seaever Enterprise Co Limited of China, but these companies were left off the list due to logistics and increased shipping costs.

Brodart is one of the vendors that have been around the longest, having been in business for over 75 years, less expensive than other models (around $17,000 for the base model with an additional $10,000 to $15,000 to customize it), and is not dependent on Wi-Fi (except for troubleshooting), or RFID. But it is old-fashioned and is not capable of handling returns. The machine’s data is not connected to the library’s ILS and staff must visit regularly to download data although they could do so when they visit to restock the machine. The Library-a-Go-Go machines were innovative and attractive but the cost averages to $160,000 including purchase, installation and start-up costs. It requires a Wi-Fi connection but is more or less an issue in rural areas or if the Wi-Fi becomes spotty. The Libramate machine by Libramation is about $100,000 to purchase, install and start-up. If SDPL plans to install at least 2 or 3 kiosks, it would cost at least $250,000. That would be a small fraction of what the new Central Library cost but it would not suit our purposes or the community.

The machine brand currently used by Fullerton Public Library is most appealing for SDPL’s needs. Capable of holding 500 items, 3M’s Public Information Kiosk, Inc. Lending Library machines utilize some of the most advanced technology from experienced designers, developers, and technicians built by hand from scratch in Maryland. Their kiosks include wall-mounted touchscreen with OPAC system capability. They come with a full warranty and customer support options for troubleshooting. Its measurements are 72″ High x 44″ Wide x 37.8″ Deep. It comes with a full one-year warranty on all hardware and software. A drop-box can be installed next to it.

Like the Brodart model, PIKInc.’s kiosk machine can be placed outdoors although it needs to be protected from the elements so it should be placed inside an enclosure or have three walls built around it. There is no snow and little rain in San Diego so the elements are not a great detriment. The system is integrated with the library’s ILS with ILS via SIP2 with barcode and RFID options. Other optional features include PIN Pad, graphic wrap, LED sign, and Lexan alternative. It’s just under $30,000 to deliver and install the base model according to their website.[20] It’s more affordable than other models. PIKInc. sold two kiosk machines for use off-site to the Northland Public Library for $25,000 each; the library funded one within their budget while the non-profit library foundation funded the other[21].

City vehicles currently already transport returned items between library branches and interlibrary loans. Their routes can be altered to include stops at vending machines to pick-up returns and re-stock the machines. Funding can be attained through grants and fundraising through the Friends of the Library Foundation. Shopping centers or malls where kiosks could be installed might be willing to create an on-going partnership. The positives of installing the library kiosks within the community would be worthwhile in terms of outreach, publicity, and gaining new users.

[1] San Diego Central Library Opens to the Public: http://www.10news.com/news/san-diego-central-library-scheduled-to-open-to-the-public-093019

[2] SDPL Mission Statement: http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/pdf/2012/120302librarymission.pdf

[3] SDPL Bookmobiles: http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/pdf/bookmobiles.pdf

2 About Redbox: http://www.redbox.com/facts

3 “Innovative Vending Machines Gain Popularity” by Alicia Ciccone (2011).


[6] http://boingboing.net/2005/08/19/parisian-bookvending.html

[7] The Library Vending Machine: http://bookriot.com/2013/11/05/library-vending-machine/

[8] https://www.flickr.com/photos/dwig/5454224618/

[9] The Library Vending Machine: http://bookriot.com/2013/11/05/library-vending-machine/

[10] http://www.envisionware.com/24h-library-features

[11]Datasheet for Envision Ware 24-hour Library https://system.netsuite.com/core/media/media.nl?id=623142&c=856814&h=27724edd8b7acc49c7fa&_xt=.pdf

[12] Fullerton Public Library: http://fullertonlibrary.org/2012/06/14/new-book-vending-machine/

[13] Learn More About the FPL Station: http://fullertonlibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/Publication1.pdf

[14] Fullerton installs $35,000 book vending machine by Kevin Reynolds (2013): http://www.ocregister.com/articles/machine-359831-books-library.html

[15] ALA lauds three library programs for best use of cutting-edge technologies by Jenni Terry (2010): http://www.districtdispatch.org/2010/03/ala-lauds-three-library-programs-for-best-use-of-cutting-edge-technologies/

[16]Library-a-go-go: ccclib.org/locations/libraryagogo.html

[17] Library Book Vending Machines Losing Ground to E-Books by Steven Lau (2012): http://elcerrito.patch.com/groups/politics-and-elections/p/library-a-go-go-program-losing-steam-to-e-books

[18] Contra Costa County Library Brings Book Dispensing Machines to the U.S. http://ccclib.org/locations/marketinglibraryservices.pdf

[19] SDPL Mission Statement: http://www.sandiego.gov/public-library/pdf/2012/120302librarymission.pdf

[20] http://www.pikinc.biz/solutions/lending-library/

[21] Vending machines latest library offering from Northland: http://triblive.com/neighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoods/alleghenyneighborhoodsmore/3868499-74/library-libraries-northland#axzz2SoGZJAHB