NOTE: This article contains personal opinions and beliefs.
I have been reading the comments in my earlier “Libraries without Librarians” article at https://blog.eogn.com/2019/06/10/libraries-without-librarians/ and I believe that many of those newsletter readers have ignored a couple of basic facts when posting comments. I am moved to remind everyone of the facts that I believe are relevant.
Several people have expressed reservations about homeless people, vagrants, and other unwanted individuals having access to the unmanned library and by possible criminal activities by these individuals. Indeed, on first reading, that also was my concern. However, let’s look at the facts.
As stated in the earlier article:
“Self-service libraries are common in Europe”
“In North America, it’s still a novelty. Just five library systems — eight libraries total — have implemented it since 2016.”
“Officials at Bibliotheca, the leading company in North America that sells the required software, counts more than 750 libraries globally as users.”
The fact is that more than 750 self-service libraries are already using this business model today and are doing so successfully.
These 750+ self-service libraries obviously are not plagued with homeless people, vagrants, or criminals roaming the halls and the book stacks. In fact, while I don’t have proof, I suspect today’s self-service libraries have FEWER problems with such individuals than do today’s fully-staffed libraries.
The reason is simple: While these self-service libraries may not have employees working in the building 24 hours a day, they also ARE NOT OPEN ACCESS libraries! In short, in self-service libraries the doors are locked. Homeless people, vagrants, and would-be criminals are locked out of the building! The method of controlling access is simple.
First of all, the earlier article states:
“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.”
Next, to unlock the front door of a self-service library, even for a few seconds, requires a library card. While not mentioned in the above article, that library card also serves as a “key card.” In order to unlock the door, one has to use swipe that card or insert it into a slot in the door. Then the identification number of that library/key card is verified by the “central management system.”
This is the same technology that has been in use in almost all hotels and also in many ATM machines for years and this controlled access has proven to be very reliable. I believe that hotels with key card access are generally safer than today’s public libraries where anyone can walk in unchallenged whenever the library is open.
In order to obtain a library/key card, the self-service library patron must first fill out a registration form of some sort. We can assume that the process requires a permanent address of some sort (easily verified AUTOMATICALLY online within in a few seconds by computer-to-computer access to any of today’s credit reporting agencies) and perhaps by requiring the number of a credit card (in order to pay future fines in case of a late return of the borrowed materials) or by a scanned image of a driver’s license or by whatever form of proof the library decides upon using. The typical homeless person, vagrant, or criminal either will not have this information or else will not be willing to record this information in a computer database.
Next, every time a library/access card is used, the identification number of that card and the date/time of its use is recorded, along with a recorded videotape of person’s activities entering, leaving, or wandering through the library. If any homeless person, vagrant, or criminal is found to ever access the library fraudulently by using a stolen card or by providing falsified information during registration, that card’s privileges can be deleted within seconds by library personnel. The person who gains unauthorized access one time will then not have access again.
Don’t forget that “… to let people enter the library, check out items and log onto computers — all while video monitors record their actions.” That means that the person using a stolen or falsified library/access card can easily be identified and that library/access card’s access privileges can be removed immediately, if necessary.
In short, I believe use of technology in an “unmanned library” will result in FEWER problems than is found in today’s “open access libraries” where ANYONE may walk in at any time the library is open.
Will it be a perfect solution? No. Nothing is ever perfect. But I do believe it will result in FEWER problems than is found in today’s open access libraries. I will settle for an improvement, even if it isn’t perfect.
In order to increase my own security, I would PREFER to use a library where access to the building is controlled by the use of high-tech access methods with access restricted to only identified individuals.