Public library considers closing book on trailblazing vending machines

The Ottawa Public Library could eventually pull the plug on its first-of-their-kind vending machines at the Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre.

A report scheduled for consideration by the library board on Tuesday recommends operating the kiosk only until the end of the machine lifecycle, expected in 2022. The library also plans to stop using lockers for people to pick up held books at the community centre, potentially when the locker lifecycle is up in 2020.

After reviewing the only kiosk service in its system, the library realized it wasn’t being used enough to justify its expansion or potential long-term operations.

The report on the library’s alternative services recommends sticking with bookmobiles and services for people who can’t leave their homes.

The popularity of the kiosk service at the community centre has been underwhelming.

When the two book vending machines were installed there in 2010, at a startup cost of $105,000, the OPL was a trailblazer, becoming the first in Canada to use the unstaffed automated lending service. People can swipe their library cards and choose the material they want.

At the time, the OPL thought the machines could be useful in future LRT stations.

Now, the library vending machines don’t fit into OPL priorities for alternative services. The library notes the machines are limited to library cardholders and expansion to other neighbourhoods would cost more than bookmobile service.

As well, machine use hasn’t increased over the past seven years, the library says. Fewer than 300 people use the kiosk regularly, which the library designates as more than six times per year. The material in the machines doesn’t move as much as other library material, with the machine material circulating between 60 per cent and 90 per cent less than material in a library branch.

According to the library, 85 per cent of kiosk customers also use branches or bookmobiles, which has two stops within one kilometre of the community centre.

In examining operations in other cities, the OPL learned they were generally not expanding library kiosk services, either.

“Kiosk services at OPL have not performed as expected, are composed of complex technological elements and do not allow OPL to meet its values or the proposed priorities. Furthermore, equitable expansion of these services would not be fiscally responsible,” the library’s report concludes.

The library will support the machines until the end of their lifecycle, the report says.

jwilling@postmedia.com

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