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Toronto Public Library’s Book Vending Machines Are Like a Better Buggy Whip in the Era of Cars

Teleread tipped me to a new program from Toronto Public Library which won’t be going anywhere. It seems the library is thinking about installing book vending machines in Toronto’s Union Station.


From the Huffington Post:

Checking out books from the library is about to get easier for commuters.

The Toronto Public Library hopes to roll out a book-lending machine at Union Station by the end of the year. If it’s successful, more could be on their way.

The move is a novel idea aimed at making the library more accessible to Torontonians and broadening the number of users, which sits around 18.5 million annually.

“You aren’t expecting a library presence in Union Station, so it will be a convenient way for commuters to access library content,” said Ana-Maria Critchley, the library’s manager of stakeholder relations.

Book vending machines have been around for going on 200 years, but for the most part they’ve been focused on selling books rather than lending them. That’s probably because the tech required to remotely check out a library book only really got cheap enough in the past decade (connectivity, for example).

And that is itself a problem for the vending machine makers. You see, the connectivity and and much of the other tech that these vending machines use can also be used to remotely supply ebooks rather than paper books.

Over the past six years I have written about any number of virtual public libraries in airports, train stations, and subway stations, and this is the first time I’ve written about a project that focused on paper books. The rest involved serving ebooks over a local Wifi network.

I can see that my source has mentioned several similar projects that used book vending machines, but when it comes to this kind of project book vending machines have proven to be the exception rather than the norm. More libraries are going with ebooks because the physical vending machines cost more to operate and maintain. And as the Contra Costa County Public Library learned, the vending machines can be difficult to repair. Their book vending machines were closed for at least a year due to "the difficulty associated with getting replacement parts from a supplier in Italy".

Frankly, these machines are buggy whips in the era when everyone has a car. They work, yes, but they’re not the best solution for this kind of project.

Far more people have a smartphone than a library card, so it would be better to supply an ebook they can read than a paper book which they cannot check out.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that a Little Free Library would be a better option (and give the books away). Or if you want to go digital, a LibraryBox would be another cheap solution for an ebook project in a train station.

But a library book vending machine? That makes about as much sense in 2015 as sending a telegram.

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Jon Jermey August 10, 2015 um 5:14 pm

I find it a little bit patronising too: "Luckily our customers are so boring and predictable that we only need forty books to satisfy their reading desires."

Nate Hoffelder August 11, 2015 um 8:14 pm

Is it patronizing? I wouldn’t think it’s any different from a Redbox or other vending machine.

Anthony W August 11, 2015 um 10:07 am

Libraries already offer a variety of ebook solutions for their patrons, and other than offering free wifi or staffing a sign up booth, how else could they encourage ebook usage? A librarybox is a great idea but let’s face it, you’re not going to be offering anything other than public domain titles; yes there are still a lot of desirable titles there, but public library patrons are hungry for more than just the classics.

I love ebooks and I love print books, and I think these vending machines are one way to offer physical library services in places where a branch can’t fit.

I also personally really like this idea, better than a vending machine, maybe they should connect with TPL.

Nate Hoffelder August 15, 2015 um 8:34 am

The nice thing about a LibraryBox is that it can serve all of the commuters, including ones that don’t have a library card. It’s also tiny, cheap, and requires minimal space and resources.

Une nouvelle boite à lire débarque à Lyon–Vente et collecte de livres d’occasion – December 2, 2015 um 4:47 am

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