By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Emulating drug stores and suburban supermarkets, the Brooklyn Public Library has installed self-checkout machines across the borough, including the Williamsburg, Kings Bay, Highlawn, Mapleton, Brooklyn Heights, Homecrest and Bay Ridge branches.
The library says automated checkout will enable patrons to borrow and return materials more conveniently and efficiently, allowing staff to spend more time engaging with the community.
The Homecrest branch in Sheepshead Bay was the latest to get the dishwasher-sized units, and this week Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz joined BPL’s President and CEO Linda Johnson at the installation. The Brooklyn delegation of the State Assembly helped acquire a Community Capital Assistant Program grant of $2 million for the units.
Ms. Johnson touted self-checkout as part of a new model of public service, just one of many innovations including increased access to eBooks and a new books-on-demand Espresso Book Machine at the Central Library. BPL was recently honored as a leading innovator by The Urban Libraries Council.
Two self-checkout machines have been in operation at the Brooklyn Heights branch for several months. Library patrons on Friday seemed somewhat, if not wholeheartedly, positive. "Personally, I thought the library staff did a pretty good job in getting patrons acclimated to the new system. When the library first rolled out the two new units, staff members instructed everyone on how to use the check-out system," said Clinton Street resident Martin Feuerman. A mom with a child in the stroller said she had “pretty good luck with it, but I’d rather have a person. I can only imagine there are tons of questions.” She added, “I think it does work better than the machines at CVS.”
Another man commented that he was satisfied with the machines “but I wish they had more. I wonder if they will break eventually? If one goes down it’s a one-shot deal.”
Several senior patrons said they hadn’t tried the self-checkout machines yet. “It’s hard enough learning how to use the computers,” said one.
American Libraries, the magazine of the American Library Association, notes that with today’s lack of funding, libraries are automating as a way to trim their current and future budgets by reducing staff.
A BPL spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle, however, that the self-checkout machines don’t portend staff cuts. “There will be the same number of librarians, but more librarians on the floor interacting with the public and providing customer service,” she said on Thursday.
BPL points out that despite cuts in funding and staffing, the library was able to expand service hours by 21 percent over the past year. Currently, over half of BPL’s branches are open six days per week and more than two-thirds offer Saturday service.
The library credits their Open Libraries Initiative, which streamlines library services such as online fines payment, centralized collection development and system-wide statistical analysis.
One old-time librarian lamented the changes.
“They’re not hiring any new librarians,” she said. Everything’s online.”