Libraries without Librarians

Several Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota) library systems are considering an “open libraries” model that would give patrons access to books, computers and other resources by themselves at times when the library isn’t open and staffed. Two west metro libraries already use the idea on a small scale.

The setup relies on technology — via a central management system — to let people enter the library, check out items and log onto computers — all while video monitors record their actions. There’s a phone connected to a central library or an on-call librarian so patrons can ask questions. Automated systems announce when the library is closing, flick the lights off and on and can even operate amenities like a gas fireplace on a schedule.

Self-service libraries are common in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, where budget cuts forced libraries to get creative to remain open. Officials at Bibliotheca, the leading company in North America that sells the required software, counts more than 750 libraries globally as users.

In North America, it’s still a novelty. Just five library systems — eight libraries total — have implemented it since 2016. Here, open libraries aren’t just about saving money — they’re also a way to extend and standardize a library’s sometimes erratic hours so more people can use the community space. Advocates say the arrangement lets libraries assign staff during hours when they’re most needed and frees them up to do more meaningful tasks than checking out books or turning out lights.

This probably is the wave of the future. You can read more in an article by Erin Adler in the Star Tribune web site at: https://tinyurl.com/y69ay2ol.

9 Comments

Interesting idea, and possibly plausible. In some places which will self-select.
One point I must make, however. Not all persons who hold paying jobs in libraries are librarians. Another issue which might be salient: how much do all those video monitors cost to purchase, install, operate, and review? Since the building will be secured only by mechanical means, will restrooms or study rooms also have video monitors? How do those who have tried this deal with malefactors?
The idea of being able to get into the library at 5 or 6 AM does have its appeal. Being in the library at midnight without security somewhat less so. I’ll stay tuned.

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The Downtown Dallas public library has a wonderful genealogy section–half the 8th floor.
But it also serves as a daytime homeless shelter. Most of the homeless are harmless but some are actually predatory. They hover about just waiting to snatch a purse, a computer, a phone, a notebook–anything. They use the restrooms to bathe. And the elevators smell ripe. I cannot imagine it without live employees on hand.

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    I also frequent the 8th floor genealogy section, and in my experience the library staff does a good job with the homeless issue to prevent actual crimes. The 8th floor also houses part of the history collection. There used to be 2 separate desks with separate staff. That’s now one desk with 3 – 4 staff. Makes it more difficult to monitor the whole floor. There are sometimes issues with personal hygiene, but I shudder to think how I would cope if I were homeless. Let’s get decent shelter for them and not blame the library for a problem not of their making.

    Liked by 1 person

    Ruth Hasten Walsh June 11, 2019 at 6:14 pm

    As a out-of-state infrequent visitor to the DPL, it has been my experience that the homeless gathered in the 8th floor “foyer” actually impede research efforts. I do not feel feel to leave the desk where I’m working without gathering and collecting all my “stuff”. I dare not go to the desk to ask a question or look up a book without packing up all my personal effects and research data. While I was there in 2014, meeting with my late distant cousin, Lloyd Bockstruck (former director of the 8th genealogy floor), one of the homeless persons accosted a research, ripping her small laptop out of her hands, and ran towards the elevator where another “homeless” person was holding the elevator. Yes, most are not dangerous; but, it is that other percentage that makes one think twice about returning to the library unless accompanied by another researcher.
    Ruth Hasten Walsh

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The way it works in our local library is that even unstaffed the hours are 8am to 9:30pm. You can only access the library when unstaffed if you have signed up in advance, been issued with the appropriate card and your own PIN, and attended a short induction first, so it’s not as if random people can wander in off the streets, or sleep overnight.
Despite initial scepticism, it’s apparently working well.

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David Paul Davenport June 11, 2019 at 11:19 pm

I am shuddering at the prospect of everything being trashed by miscreants. Locks and paid staff are the only things protecting some priceless irreplaceable materials. Eliminating both is a dreadful idea. So here’s facetious idea, let’s throw the doors of the Capitol open wide and see how long it takes for the members of Congress to complain about theft and filth by visitors.

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I do understand the comments about people being uncomfortable with some of the homeless ones who frequent the library as a place “to be in out of the weather etc.” but to blame them for the stealing of purses and laptops – well, that is really the fault of the owners of these items. I ALWAYS lock down my laptop so that it, the table or whatever would have to be taken with it (very hard to steal!) and my purse is never – ever – left unattended because even genealogists are known to take things that don’t belong to them.
Like Virginia says – “Let’s get decent shelter for them and not blame the library for a problem not of their making.”

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Unmanned Libraries are not ‘common’ in the United Kingdom as you state: a few exist but they are rare.

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Judith Arnn-Knight June 18, 2019 at 7:39 am

What an incredible idea! I cannot speak to administration in public libraries but was a medical/science librarian in academia and medical libraries in health science medical centers. We NEVER had the staff to cover the hours requested; depending upon the type of library there were always residents/interns or grad students who could only effectively use the library when their day’s work was done. To be able to provide access to the information needed and not have to worry about a physical staff being present would be the best of both worlds. I cannot imagine a security problem in either situation as everyone in each specialized community would have the proper credentials to access the library without any problem I would imagine the same would be true with any other special library which supports an educational facility.

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