Vending machines latest library offering from Northland

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Susan Herman's children are all about self-service when it comes to their book selections.

Neither one can read, but Joshua, 4, and Bethany, 2, like to have options at their fingertips, so they regularly use the book and DVD lending kiosk at the Baierl Family YMCA in Franklin Park, said Herman, 39, who lives in the borough.

“We come here like two or three times a week, and they get a book most days that we are here,” said Herman while standing with her children in front of the kiosk on Tuesday. She reads to her children often, and the kiosk encourages their interest in reading, she said.

Northland Public Library placed kiosks, which look like candy vending machines, in December at the YMCA on Nicholson Road and at the Ross Community Center on Ross Municipal Drive. Northland is the first library in southwestern Pennsylvania to offer the service.

Offering off-site kiosks is part of a growing trend of libraries trying harder to reach more people in their communities, said Larra Clark, associate director of the Program for America's Libraries for the 21st Century, which is part of the American Library Association in Chicago.

“I think libraries are really striving to meet people where they are,” she said.

Because Northland's 30,500-square-foot building in McCandless serves residents in such a large area — 60 square miles among Ross, McCandless, Franklin Park, Marshall and Bradford Woods — the library purchased the kiosks, called Northland's Offsite Modern Alternative Dispensers, or NOMADs, to better serve patrons in its most northern and southern coverage areas, said Sandra Collins, Northland's director of library services.

“Our building is … too small for the people we serve, and this is one of the ways that we can provide service in other locations,” she said.

Of the 44 libraries outside the city of Pittsburgh that belong to the Allegheny County Library Association, Northland had the highest 2012 circulation number, which is the number of items borrowed — 976,438, according to the county association. That number increases to 1.1 million when including the items Northland sent to other libraries to be borrowed, Collins said.

From 2010 to 2012, Northland's annual number of patron visits increased 11.5 percent to 1.2 million visits, according to Collins.

Nationwide, libraries' other outreach efforts include virtual branches that allow online users to check out books, place holds, pay fines, download electronic books and book meeting rooms from their home computers, Clark said.

Another offering is the cybermobile, which is a mobile library branch, perhaps on a bus, that offers wireless Internet access, computer training and/or digital downloads, she said.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh operates a pop-up library in an Allentown storefront.

“Clearly the value of library service is about more than physical or even technology resources. It's also about the people who actively engage the community, learning what resources, services and programs that community needs and wants,” said Marilyn A. Jenkins, executive director of the county library association.

Nationally, the automation of library services is critical because budget cuts have led to fewer libraries, while patron usage has increased, said Anthony Chow, assistant professor in the department of library and information studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

From fiscal year 2005 to 2010, the number of public libraries in the United States decreased about 3 percent, or by 247 libraries, to 8,951, while the number of physical visits increased 16 percent to 1.57 billion, according to data released in January by the Institute of Museum and Library Services in Washington, D.C.

Kiosks are becoming more common, but they can be restricted to large libraries that have better funding to support off-site circulation using a retail model, much like RedBox movie rentals, said Marshall Breeding, a Nashville-based independent library technology consultant and publisher of Library Technology Guides.

Northland's NOMADs cost about $25,000 each — the library bought one and its foundation bought the other, Collins said.

Patrons use the machines by swiping their library cards, which can be from any public library in the county, under a scanner before making their selections. Receipts are printed with the titles of the items borrowed and the due dates for their return. The NOMADs don't accept returns but book drops have been added to the YMCA and Ross Community Center.

The NOMADs have been received well, with the YMCA location accounting for 88 percent of the 800 items borrowed since December, Collins said.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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