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Smart Libraries Q&A: Selecting self-service equipment

Smart Libraries Newsletter [September 2020]


As libraries prepare for service post-pandemic, self-checkout is looking more appealing. What are functionalities or factors we should be looking at in choosing a self-checkout station? Who are the major vendors in the marketplace? What are recommended steps for sanitizing self-checkout stations in operation?

During this time of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, libraries are investigating many different ways in which they can reopen and provide services in the safest way possible. It is essential to ensure the safety of library workers and library patrons. Libraries should look to health care experts as they shape their policies and procedures that can be considered reasonably safe and to avoid spread of the coronavirus.

Self-service stations can minimize the interactions between library workers and library patrons. This equipment along with Plexiglas barriers can provide at least some protection. Self-service kiosks do not address the possibility of contamination via surfaces, such as the keypads and other surfaces of the kiosk or the materials themselves. Even if the virus spreads more easily through other means, transmission via surfaces remains a concern. Research from the REALM Project has shown that the virus does not persist on library materials beyond three days.8 In a context where libraries might assume that patrons could be infected and transmit virus by handling materials, it would be challenging to design processes where patrons freely browse library stacks and select their own materials. Many libraries are implementing processes where patrons request materials online, which can then be picked up via a curb-side service. In this scenario enabling patrons to use self-service to charge materials may provide less safety than having library workers charge the material.

If there are procedures where patrons can charge materials to themselves, procedures would need to be in place to prevent contamination via the equipment. Cleaning exposed components between patrons would be onerous, and libraries would need to seek expert advice on whether that would be necessary.

Another self-service option can be accomplished through mobile check-out where patrons use their own mobile phones or tablets to charge materials. Many ILS or self-check vendors offer apps with this capability. Mobile checkout still involves patrons' handling of materials, but avoids the risks related to patron use of self-check stations.

Libraries can also use sorters for returned items or other automated material handling equipment to reduce the contact with materials by library workers. Libraries can develop processes for returned materials that automatically sort into bins that can be quarantined for a prescribed duration. Many of the companies offering self-check and related equipment have developed resources to assist libraries in planning for equipment to deal with current and future events. Some of the ones I have come across include:

  • Bibliotheca:
  • Tech Logic:
    • totalAMH Quarantine Mode & selfCIRC Touchless Checkout -touchless
    • Disinfecting and cleaning procedure for Tech Logic equipment.
  • Lyngsoe Systems: Library Units updates on Coronavirus (COVID-19) virus

Acquiring and installing self-check stations or automated material handling equipment will likely take longer than would be helpful for addressing the short-term needs for library re-opening. Absorbing the expense of these items may also be difficult when library budgets may be constrained or frozen due to funding shortfalls. But as the crisis abates, libraries will want to consider technology components in longer term planning to address concerns that will inevitably remain even after the current crisis subsides.


  1. OCLC Web Junction. “REALM Project: Reopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums.” -project.
View Citation
Publication Year:2020
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 40 Number 09
Issue:September 2020
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Series: Smart Libraries Q&A
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:25487
Last Update:2022-11-29 00:13:42
Date Created:2020-09-08 14:10:03