Libraries to introduce automatic checkout Machines will speed book borrowing at 3 Balto. County branches

May 11, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

They look like bank machines, and the idea -- speeding a transaction -- is similar. But the beige devices that will appear in Baltimore County's three busiest libraries late this week instead will speed book borrowers on their way.

The automatic book checkout machines being installed in Cockeysville, Catonsville and Towson are intended to cut checkout lines, increase circulation and free library workers to help in other ways, said Jim Fish, director of the 15-branch, 460,000-patron county library system.

"They can be out in a few seconds," Fish said of borrowers using the service, called Express Checkout, which is used at two libraries in Montgomery County. "Our plan is to improve customer service."

The $25,000 tabletop machines are simple to operate, library officials say, with clear, brief instructions on the dark screen at eye level.

A borrower places a library card face up for electronic scanning on a tray in front of the screen. If the patron owes no fines over $1, the book can be placed on the tray, bar code facing up, and scanned. The borrower gets a paper receipt that includes the return date.

Any Maryland library card may be used, according to library spokesman Bob Hughes, but card-holders from outside

Baltimore County must be registered with the county.

The devices are set up to handle books only -- videos, compact discs and other library materials cannot be handled by machine. For the first few weeks, human helpers will stand by.

Mary K. LePage, Cockeysville branch manager, said the new machines should offer relief at crowded times such as the lunch hour, after school or on Saturdays near closing. "We do have back-ups," she said. "This really will be an extra pair of hands."

LePage expects the machine to be well-used at her branch, which lends more than 100,000 items every month. "We have a lot of people in this area who are very independent and who like to do things for themselves," she said.

Montgomery County has had machines since late 1996 in its Germantown and Kensington branches. They have been so successful that officials are seeking money for eight more, said library director Harriet Henderson.

In March, one machine checked out 10,300 books at the Germantown branch, among the 22-branch system's busiest, Henderson said. "It's a way to get people out quicker. We do it as a convenience. It doesn't reduce the need for people," she said.

Pub Date: 5/11/98

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