November 26th – Library automation (self check out, automated check in) mostly

Library automation is really hard to cover in one post. So many vendors, blogs, journals, so little time.

Library automation – this covers integrated library systems, interlibrary loan software, scanners and the related equipment to make everything work together. The latest hardware that many circulation staff expect to put them out of a job are self-check-out and automated check-in.

Self-check-out units are not new. Before I moved out to the valley just over seven years ago, my local library, Richmond Public Library, had multiple units at their Ironwood branch. They were seemingly built into a wall. I enjoyed being able to check my own books out and not have to stand in line. I can remember standing in line before that, trying to look patient. Whatever the person on the other side of the counter was doing did not look difficult. Once I had the opportunity to try it out myself, my assessment was correct. I can remember a time when liquor stores were not self-serve. I also remember Consumer’s Distributing. You wrote out your order on a form and someone picked the order in the back. You picked up your order when it was ready. I cannot imagine going back to that delivery method. Today people want quick service and short if no lines. Many, including me, are very happy to certain tasks myself if it gets me in and out quicker.

Occasionally there are times when self-check-out does not work. Then it’s off to the circulation desk to fix the problem. Sometimes there is a good reason, other times it is technique. I also tend to use the self-checkout at the grocery store, unless the lines are really short and I have items that require special processing.

Automated check-in interests me. As a library student, as I know that self-check-out is here to stay. With the advent of RFID, automated check-in becomes more likely. The job description of circulation staff has changed significantly in the past 10 and will continue to do so because of this kind of automation. What kind of future can I expect?

I have often wondered about how the circ staff feels looking at the book returns that have become full overnight, or the ones that get full during the day. Is it like laundry and dishes, a drag? A cause of RSI? Is it the best use of these staff members’ time and expertise?

Firstly the integrated library system had to support equipment for self-check-out and automated check-in. The pieces of equipment have to talk to the system. Equipment has to be compatible, fit in library spaces, be easy to use and reliable. Automated check-in has come as a later entry. As staff’s salaries account for a large part of the budget, just like in other industries it makes sense to try to reduce the number of staff that do jobs that can be done just as well by machines. Use the staff for the things that computers are not good at or cannot do. This is an application of the right tool for the job.

One of the libraries in my local library system now has automated check-in in one of the newer libraries. Here’s the video It also talks about other newer technologies the library and its users use.

In order to calculate the total cost of ownership, to know if a library is justified in purchasing either or both types of equipment, cost is a primary issue, other than those noted above. It can be difficult to get prices on technology in the library world, as there are very few library-type stores that one can wander in to. Software websites tend to not have prices, or only give prices for the most basic systems. It’s about negotiation. And I thought buying a car was a hassle. However, with the magic of the Internet and a list of the right suppliers, prices are available for some things. It still can be difficult, as this may not be the actual price a library would pay. It depends on which consortia a library belongs to and how much pull it has with a desired vendor.

The Automation Leader – they have great graphic to help the user to identify products on their site, is a data sheet for a self-check-out unit and add-ons. Notes no prices. They do offer webinars, which is helpful. Head office is in New Jersey.

This company focuses on the needs of libraries only. Their page explains this in a rather humorous fashion. There is no section for testimonials. The closest thing is the page for Recent News and Events,

In reading some of the material I downloaded from the LITSA database, the name 3M came up. I tend to think of them mostly in terms of Scotch tape, but they do a lot more. The offer equipment for both check in and check out, There are product demos available, but they are somewhat lame. The specs for one check-in system are included in The demo includes a 360 degree view, and photo gallery as well. No price, but there is a link to request information.

There are more options for self checkout,

There are promotional on-line videos available, but one needs to complete and submit a form in order to access them.

This site also has a Loss Reduction calculator,, useful when calculating payback. Service agreements are also available, As long as there is a circulation desk staffed by people, perhaps a 24+ hour delay waiting for a technician is acceptable.

Still frustrated about lack of visible pricing. Time for a different search string, using GoDuckGo. I found this website, This has prices for the equipment as well as the supplies. Regardless of  automated or in personal circulation staff checkout, there is a need for the thermal printing rolls.

Here is a web page for a 3M self checkout – $21,049.00. As this is an American site, presumably the price is in US dollars. To calculate payback, one would need to know how much the actual operating costs are, including electricity, cost for installation, service contract and any building modifications. That goes beyond the scope of this assignment, but it is certainly doable. Many of the costs are sunk, which would may a three year payback attractive.

The 2013 rate for an-call circulation assistant for the Fraser Valley Regional Library in an internal posting is between $23.67 and $24.28 per hour (pay grade 4). Based on 35 hours per week, 52 weeks per year, an annual salary is between $43,079 and $44,190 (approximately). Another consider is the number of transactions done by via self checkout versus circulation staff. A cost per transaction could eventually be calculated.

 This web site has nothing for automated check in.

Finding a price for automated check-in equipment is beyond the scope of an Internet search. There can be multiple parts involved, which vary between libraries and how the system is implemented. That is one for the accountants to figure out – the total costs, including installation, service agreement, building modifications. This may be done when a library has chosen specific components and implementation.

Time for another search. Using  GoDuckGo search I found – the site looks like everything one could want to know about automated materials handling, except how much it actually costs. An article caught my eye,, actual report The cost of the equipment is not included in this study, as far as I can tell. However, the study suggests that the automated library is more efficient than the manual one, as well as providing better customer service by having materials on the shelves sooner. One may disagree with the wages for staff, but the calculations could be redone with the specific wages for a specific library and its hourly rates.

The site includes blog postings, web resources and case studies that the Galicia Group has or is currently working on. The focus area includes the topics of automated materials handling, open source library software, RFID and workflow technology. I will definitely share this site with others. The site covers systems and includes presentations. A goldmine of information for library management. Hardware vendors and hardware information would need to be obtained elsewhere.

I have my doubts about ehow websites, but this one seems reasonable – It is refreshing to see disadvantages discussed as well as advantages. There are other useful looking resources associated with this ehow site.

Library Technology Guides,, contains a plethora of resources about library technology, including Perceptions International Library Automation Surveys for the last six years. One can compare statistics from year to year, as well as read author Marshall Breeding’s opinions.

It is difficult to keep up with the hardware and software trends and technology due to the sheer volume. You can’t go wrong with Marshall Breeding, but he does provide enough for one to do the research.

Library automation is here to stay. The vendor web sites do not indicate what the expected lifespan of self-check and automated check-in is. That may be a question for an RFQ or by checking with individual libraries. What does the trend in automation mean to library students? Once in the workforce, it may mean working with more machines than staff members. Manual processes will be minimized. Trouble shooting hardware and software problems will be a regular part of the job description. There will always be upgrades and changes to software, hardware and middleware. For those who don’t like technology or are not comfortable with it, pick another profession. For those already working in circulation, it means acquiring and maintaining technological knowledge.  It may not be easy to keep up with all the changes, but certain blogs and vendor websites make it easier. Following them on Twitter can also help.


Update on Delicious – the tags are really important, as this seems to be how My Links categorizes. If you click on Tags, then a list of tags is shown. Some are in a larger font than others, which suggests that they are somehow important. More to read about tags and tag bundles. Not all web pages work with the Add to Delicious function. The Smithsonian was one of them, which was disappointing. The web page I wanted to add went blank, which was not useful.

I have not yet logged into a different computer and accessed Delicious. I see no reason why it wouldn’t work. I will continue to use the program after the course is over, to learn more about how it works, its quirks and additional functionality.

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