There is a great article in the June 2014 Library Journal called “Remotely Convenient” by Matt Enis, see http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/06/public-services/remotely-convenient-outreach/.
The discussion centers on making the library collection available to patrons at a remote lending facility located outside of a traditional library branch building. The remote lending facilities discussed are the Envisionware 24 hour library (see http://www.envisionware.com/24h-library-features) and the Bibliotheca smartlocker (see http://www.bibliotheca.com/1/index.php/us/our-products/dispensing-collection/smartlocker).
The logic behind using these facilities is that it is a middle path to take when a much needed new library branch cannot be built in the foreseeable future. Patrons can use these remote facilities to have routine library account matters taken care of in lieu of coming to a library branch. The units can also relieve library branches that struggle with crowded stacks and space constraints. They may also be a helpful resource if a branch is being renovated and you want to make a library collection available to patrons during the interim.
The Envisionware 24 hour library can handle a variety of tasks (check in, check out, returns, item renewals, sorting, holds pick up, stack browsing, program information, reserve selection, OPAC browsing, and fine payment/Wifi access are optional). The price tag on this equipment is $200,000. California’s Fresno County Public Library is the fourth library system in the country to utilize the Envisionware 24 hour library technology.
The Bibliotheca smartlocker needs patrons to make requests in advance either using the library website or the smartlocker itself in order to have the requested item made available to the patron for pickup. However, it has a far lower price of $25,000 to $30,000. The Topkea and Shawnee County Public Library needed to reach a number of different locations in its county so it opted for buying multiple smartlockers in lieu of one big 24 hour library.
The article ends by citing that it is important to have library staff involved in helping/ instructing patrons how to use the equipment and their presence can be considered a type of outreach program. Such was the experience at Contra Costa County Library which launched a remote lending venture in 2008. Fresno County Public Library’s Laurel Prysiazny thinks that unstaffed lending is not going to replace libraries. In addition to staff available for instruction/outreach we need to consider that staff need to be available to deliver/retrieve materials from these units as well as to provide basic maintenance on them.
While the remote lending units provide a basic level of library collection access to patrons, they are not going to offer study room space, programming, and the general library environment experience many crave. However, it is important to know that these technologies are available as an aid to libraries.