Computerized system speeds book checkouts

Equipment now available at White Marsh library

August 23, 2004|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

A $250,000 piece of technology designed to speed the book checkout process and free librarians for other duties has been introduced in a Baltimore County Public Library branch.

The system was placed into operation last week at the White Marsh branch with the idea that it could be adopted at other branches, said Robert Hughes, a spokesman for the county library system.

A user scans a library card in one of the library's two machines then places books on a blue platform in front of a computer monitor. A sticker containing a microchip, positioned on the back of each book, is detected by the computer, which registers the outgoing books and provides the customer with a receipt.

The Fastrac machine, manufactured by VTLS Inc. in Blacksburg, Va., allows as many as eight books to be checked out simultaneously, Hughes said. He said the number of library workers will not be cut back, and customers who prefer to check out books, DVDs and CDs the old-fashioned way still can do so.

"We'll be guided by our customers, their reactions to this innovation," Hughes said. "We don't push technology for technology's sake."

White Marsh branch librarians have been preparing the books and otherwise fine-tuning the system since February.

The White Marsh branch is the second in which the technology has been used in Maryland, Hughes said.

The Harford County library's branch in Abingdon has had a Fastrac machine since it opened in May, said Beth Lapenotiere, the branch manager.

Hughes said the system was paid for with a $125,000 grant from the State Department of Education and money from the library's budget and other sources.

A library branch in Sarasota County, Fla., has been using the Express Check Out system three years and the head librarian there, Sarabeth Kalajian, is pleased with the results.

"The response was overwhelmingly positive," said Kalajian. "The Fastrac has reduced hand checkout by half, freeing employees to serve other requests."

Up to 15,000 people use her library branch daily, she said.

At the White Marsh branch, where more than 600,000 items were checked out last year, some library patrons find Fastrac helpful.

Susan Hearn, 39, of Rosedale used Fastrac to check out two books on running. Although she had to wait a bit for her receipt, she liked the system.

"The receipt was a little slow, but other than that I liked everything about the new system," she said.

David Yarborough of White Marsh checked out four books without a hitch.

"I give it two thumbs up," he said.

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