Halifax Public Libraries looking at vending machines to check out books

Halifax Public Libraries is looking at setting up vending machines to dispense books after-hours or in locations more convenient to patrons.

'These machines are going to be in a place you certainly wouldn't expect to see a library service.'

Halifax Public Libraries is looking at purchasing vending machines that distribute books, like this one in Porterville, Calif. (The Associated Press)

People who like the feel of a real book and prefer to borrow it, but can never seem to get to the library when it's open may soon be able to get their hands on the next bestseller using a vending machine.

Halifax Public Libraries issued a tender Friday requesting bids from manufacturers or distributors for machines that can dispense books. Each should be able to hold 100 to 150 titles and be able to scan a library card.

Debbie LeBel, the director of access for Halifax Public Libraries, said the idea is to give library cardholders another convenient way to check out material.

"This is just something that a lot of libraries are doing because it is an opportunity that technology provides us with," she said.

Debbie LeBel with Halifax Public Libraries says the machines wouldn't replace library staff. (Submitted by Halifax Public Libraries)

The Ottawa Public Library has had two machines at the Hunt Club-Riverside Park Community Centre since 2011. The centre is in a community without a library branch and about 11 kilometres from Parliament Hill.

Those machines are used by about 600 people who check out almost 10,000 titles a year.

Alexandra Yarrow, the Ottawa Public Library's manager of alternative services, said library patrons who use the centre for dance classes or other city-run programs for their children appreciate the convenience of the machines.

"Some of those people might visit a branch and some might not, so for us, it's a net win in that sense," she said.

"We're reaching an audience that otherwise may or may not visit one of our locations."

Alexandra Yarrow with the Ottawa Public Library says some of the people who use the machines are people that wouldn't otherwise go to libraries. (Submitted by Ottawa Public Library)

That's the thinking behind Halifax's desire to get the machines.

"I think they're actually kinda interesting because they provide you with convenience ... These machines are going to be in a place you certainly wouldn't expect to see a library service," said LeBel, who has test driven a few models at trade shows.

Where would the machines go?

She said officials haven't decided where to put the machines, but it's likely Halifax would follow the lead of other cities that have them.

"Other libraries have put them in places like transit terminals or in hockey rinks or something like that," said Lebel.

These are the two library vending machines used by the Ottawa Public Library. (Submitted by Ottawa Public Library)

"Sometimes they are in communities that have a branch and sometimes they are in areas that are further removed from an existing branch. The options are limitless."

LeBel said the machines wouldn't cause any job losses and would simply provide an additional service.

Free museum passes?

The machines in Ottawa dispense more than just books and have sparked some interesting partnerships.

"We also stock museum passes in the machines, so we have partnerships with some of the big museums in the City of Ottawa that provide free family passes," said Yarrow.

"Those go like hotcakes."

Although Ottawa hasn't expanded its collection of book vending machines beyond the original two, Halifax would like to start with one or two and then have five by the third year.