Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Nostalgia for the Future: Book? Check! Library card? Check! Checkout Desk? Nope – Self Check!

As a Brooklyn native, I am a sucker for how some terribly familiar things in our communities change and how they remain the same. A few years back, I literally got all misty at the reopening of the new Brooklyn Museum lobby space, in all its contemporary beauty. I remembered walking to the Museum since I was a kid, pushing open the heavy entrance doors, and exploring the mysteries of ancient Egypt and the delight of artistic discovery. It was still the fantastic Brooklyn Museum, but had also morphed into a modern, welcoming and amazingly creative public space, with fountains, post-modern entrance, and outdoor public spaces.

I had the similar vibe visiting the newly renovated digs of the Kings Highway Brooklyn Public Library branch at Ocean Avenue. Not so much the library itself, although it has a bright and open feel. I don't think I had visited this branch before.* But when I had picked up a book (Lincoln as Writer) and looked around for the check out desk. There wasn’t one. There was a table at which sat two librarians and the security officer. I sheepishly asked “How do you check out?” The branch security officer smiled and said “you need to use the scanner!” clearly relishing the opportunity to teach an old dog a new trick.

Sure enough, a table held several scanners. It is much easier than checking out yourself at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Basically, you put the book down on the scanner. When prompted, you remove that, and then you put your BPL library card on the scanner. It records the book and issues a receipt. That’s it!

“This is the sixth branch using the new technology, and the Fort Hamilton Branch will be the eighth when it reopens following renovations,” said Malika Granville, a spokesperson for the Brooklyn Public Library. In addition to Kings Highway, Highlawn was the first branch, it was renovated with “Self-check machines” in 2006. After its successful piloting at Highlawn, it expanded to other branches, including Mapleton, Canarsie, Macon, Bay Ridge, and Mill Basin. Ms. Granville also confirmed that the Park Slope branch will be outfitted with the new check out technology after it reopens. (The Park Slope branch closed in the fall of 2009, with a projected two year renovation period.)
Despite the complications experienced by some agencies with the introduction of new technologies the Board of Election's new e-voting system comes to mind), the Brooklyn Public Library reports that the piloted program so far has been a great success. And the staff members at the branches, as always, make an art of serving the customer (or patrons, which I recall was the BPL euphemism for cardholding library members) -- another great thing that has never changed.
The new self-check technology system is funded with a combination of State and City capital dollars. BPL anticipates that the new system, manufactured by the 3M Company, will be rolled out to all branches in approximately two years.

*I guess can list on 10 fingers the BPL branches which I've visited:
  • Central - bGrand Army Plaza - one of my first jobs; where I worked as a high school kid in the what was then the audio visual department with Mr. Ken Axthelm and Joe Schera. I lived in Windsor Terrace, so walking to and visiting the Central Branch in all of its wonder, was an intrinsic part of my education.
  • Park Slope Branch -Again, in walking distance as a kid. A cozy, somewhat gothic feeling branch. Currently under renovation.
  • Windsor Terrace - Walking distance, although smaller, but always a fun destination.
  • Clinton Hill - When we lived in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill; I remember the Harvest Festival and Book Sale at this branch just around this time of the year.
  • Mapleton - When I worked in Staten Island, this became a frequent stop on my way home from work.
  • Midwood - Our current local branch.
  • Cortelyou - Nearby, but not as convenient to us as Midwood.
  • Fort Hamilton - Occasional visits. Currently under renovation. Originally scheduled for spring 2010 reopening, additional construction requirements have delayed the reopening.
  • Pacific and Brooklyn Heights - Both are near my office, and near our previous home in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene, but I don't get out to visit them often enough.
Thanks to Malika L. Granville, Marketing & Communications Associate at BPL.

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