Self-checkout machines will be coming to the BPL's branches at last, and to the South End branch specifically, within the next few months. "We'd hoped to have one installed by July," reported Christine Schonhart, BPL's Director of Branch Library Services, "but the bidding process stalled because the machine that was offered didn't work with our new Integrated Library System." Schonhart hopes a compatible self-checkout can be installed this fall, and to combine it with a 'self-hold' shelf where patrons can pick up the materials they ordered on-line. Among other advantages, a 'self-hold' area increases patrons' personal privacy about what materials they check out. The news about the acquisition of self-service equipment is part of the BPL's recent Branch Facilities Review, which focuses on the extent to which the branches are equipped to provide library services.
Why it took so long for the BPL to get up to speed with self-service technology can be attributed, in part, to the cost of the machines and the persistent under-funding of the public library system in Boston. Many other cities endowed their libraries with self-checkouts years ago, freeing up staff to do more high-octane tasks. The arrival of Amy Ryan as president of the BPL in 2008 may have pushed the issue to the fore since her previous employer, the Minneapolis-Hennepin County Library system, had self-checkouts in all its locations, including pint-sized versions in the Children's Departments, where the littlest generation learned self-checkout as they learned to pull favorite books off the shelf.
Two BPL trustees, current chair Jeff Rudman, and former trustee A. Raymond Tye --who passed away in 2010,-- generously paid for the first few BPL self-checkout machines from their personal funds a couple of years ago. These self-checkout machines are located in the Johnson building's entrance hall, sometimes hard to notice in the cavernous space that makes up that part of the downtown library, a problem that will hopefully be remedied soon with BPL plans to renovate the Johnson Building. At the time, the trustees were told each machine would cost about $25,000 but the price tag ranges anywhere from $20,000 to more than one million dollars, according to industry information. This YouTube video link explains how to use them.
The BPL self-checkouts in the Johnson Building, too, are combined with a self-hold area where library users can pick up the library treasure they ordered. Self-checkout systems that enable patrons to pick up their own holds during regular library hours are among the most popular self-service offerings, according to a 2010 article on self-service options in Library Journal. The article also mentioned that shifting tasks to users freed up staff to do other responsibilities, including a chronic backup from growing circulation.