Fast book nation

'Don't cha just hate it that Yeats is pronounced 'Yates' and 'Keats' is pronounced 'Keets'?'

Some people really enjoy small talk with librarians as they check out your books at the library.

But in this fast-paced world, lots of people are in a rush to grab their books and dash through the turnstile. They scan their own groceries, they pump their own gas and they can check out their own library books.

Virginia's Fairfax County Public Library System late last year launched the express-checkout service with a system from Tech-Logic of White Bear Lake, Minn. Each of the library's 21 branches uses Tech Logic's Combo Station self-checkout system. Other libraries have implemented similar systems.

The system uses a scanner that reads the bar codes on the books, as well as the codes on library cards. Patrons also receive a printed receipt that tells them when their books are due.

The county's 45 Combo Stations use Tech-Logic's CircIT interface to manage the transactions. Tech-Logic provided the libraries with touch-screen monitors and software, but the county reused computers, scanners and printers they already had, said Gary W. Kirk, executive director of Tech-Logic.

For routine transactions, library customers can just swipe their books and go. Other transactions, such as checking out DVDs, paying fines or picking up reserved items, will still require the assistance of a librarian.

In the first three months of operation, the express-checkout system had 296,763 transactions.

'People love it,' said Lois Kirkpatrick, marketing and public relations manager for the Fairfax County Public Library. 'The kids were some of the early adopters,' she said. 'Kids are teaching their parents how to use it.'

The system is helping free up time for librarians. Less time at the checkout counter means more time for staff to give better personalized service to customers with checking out DVDs, paying fees and picking up books that they've put on hold.

At public libraries, business and circulation are increasing but funding for staff isn't, Tech-Logic's Kirk said. 'Everybody is trying to find more efficiencies for how libraries are operated.'

Last year people checked out more than 11 million books and other materials from the Fairfax library.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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