Book-o-mat – "must have" of the last season, that sums up 3.5 years from the implementation of the first book-o-mat in Poland

Elżbieta Szczęsny

The functioning of libraries during the pandemic period has shown that with the existing organizational and technological solutions it is extremely difficult to serve the reader without his personal presence in the institution, and both the infrastructure and the systems used are not prepared for such work.

Sygnity Business Solutions has been intensively developing and implementing modern technological solutions in the PROLIB library system over the last few years, such as INTEGRO metasearch service, mobile application for readers, wide range of e-services e. g. remote loans, remote ordering of reprographic services, registration of the reader with the e-PUAP platform (trusted signature), electronic payments for reading charges, integration with text message sending or self-service devices, such as e. g. book-o-mats that allow libraries to quickly adapt to changing the way they work and serve their readers. Thanks to this, in response to the current epidemiological situation related to COVID-19, institutions using the PROLIB system can work and serve readers both during the complete closure of the institution and during partial availability to their users (more about this here: One day of a reader in a quarantine – library inspirations)

The book-o-mat, which is an essential part of a universal IT solution allowing for flexible management of services in the library through the PROLIB system, has today become a kind of technological “must have” for libraries and readers. This is evidenced by the growing statistics on the use of this type of equipment, which show that readers are increasingly eager to use it and even people who have previously preferred the traditional way of serving in the library are becoming convinced of it. On the other hand, librarians are creating other new applications, such as a “mobile library”, a book-o-mat in place of library branches that are being closed down, or the location of equipment in shopping malls and other public places.

The features for which readers have loved book-o-mats, are primarily accessibility and safety. A 24-hour book machine active does not create any restrictions on access to the expected reading. You can use it when you return from work, go for a walk with your children or dog, go shopping or go to university. Night brands can drop in for a book even at midnight. The time is free and the rental is discreet, without the presence of prying eyes of other readers.

Statistics on the use of book-o-mats in three libraries working in the PROLIB system (Tychy Municipal Public Library, Sosnowiec Municipal Public Library, Voivodeship Public Library of Cracow) show interesting trends. Libraries have been using the equipment for 2 to 3 years and already have a large group of supporters. The most frequent users of this form of lending are people who are active, working or learning, for whom a book-o-mat clearly saves time and makes life easier. They may appreciate the opportunity to adapt the way they use the library services to their lifestyle. It is also interesting that the group of WBP book enthusiasts in Kraków is dominated by two age categories: 20-24 (37%) and 25-44 (42%), which is probably due to the specificity of the library, as it is a recognized scientific library that is willingly used by students.

The charts below show the age structure of readers in the 3 libraries working in the PROLIB system regarding the use of book machines.

Equally intuitive, available without any time limits and discrete is the order to pick up the book from the book-o-mat. This can be done using a computer or a mobile device from anywhere in the world by searching for an interesting position in the INTEGRO metasearch service and indicating the place of reception in the book-o-mat. The PROLIB system automatically sends a notification when the book is placed in the box of the device. And, like in the parcel machines, we usually have 48 hours to pick it up. The scenario is as realistic as possible when the reader sends an order to a book-o-mat while on holiday in Masuria and adds the time of arrival – he receives the book on his way home.

So far, when speaking about the security of using the book-o-mat, we have been thinking only about securing the transaction, which is guaranteed, for example, by identifying the reader with a library card. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the safety of the reader and the librarian at the forefront of the most important features of the bookshop, as there is no need to contact other people and enter the library premises in the process of user service and use of loans. The librarian can work in the library and the reader can use the services with social distance.

After the reopening of the libraries, the readers started to use the services in the library premises in a very moderate way, but they stormed into the book-o-mats. They considered them to be completely safe, which was undoubtedly also due to the announcements about the quarantine for books on the libraries’ websites.

How important these aspects are for the readers was shown by the results of MBP statistics in Sosnowiec before the pandemic and after the reopening of the library in June. Statistical data dt. The work of the book-o-mat (visits, loans and the age profile of users) were presented in two compartments, one covering the period from the beginning of making the book-o-mat available to readers until 29. 04. 2020, the other – from 30. 04. 20 to 11. 08. 2020, when the library was opened after the period of forced closure resulting from COVID-19. Despite the epidemiological restrictions in force at that time, the number of daily visits to books increased by 190%, the number of borrowed volumes per day by 151% and the number of borrowed documents per reader by 267%.

In case of libraries working in the PROLIB system, integration with book-o-mats provides significant functional benefits. As the only manufacturer on the library market, Sygnity Business Solutions equips its solution with numerous facilities for both readers and librarians, among others:

  • the possibility of checking the status of boxes in the book-o-mat thanks to information in the library system about the number of empty boxes, with books not collected by readers, with books returned by readers
  • the possibility of cancelling a reader’s order with a reason – the reader then receives an e-mail with confirmation of such action,
  • the possibility of making a decision on lending in the case of the reader’s unpaid fees or reaching lending limits.

The solution allows you to manage the entire process of servicing book-o-mat loans. An important advantage is also the possibility to use the device both in libraries using RFID technology, where the identification of the reader is done by Mifare type cards, and based on the identification with a barcode card. It is a flexible solution that does not force libraries to incur additional costs for implementing RFID technology in the library.

Taking into account the fact that the first book machine appeared in the Polish library (MBP Tychy) relatively recently (2017), this device already has a large portfolio of models and applications, such as:

  • internal book-o-mats;
  • external book-o-mats;
  • a “mobile library” type of book-o-mat, which operates on the basis of mobile internet and can therefore be set up anywhere, e. g. in the world. in shopping malls, at a railway station, at a bus stop or on a university campus. The idea of its operation is similar to snack machines, as the reader chooses from the available offer what he or she wants at a given moment. These could be for example bestsellers from new publications or the most interesting items from the scientific literature required for studies. The “Mobile Library” also focuses the attention of the passer-by with an interesting idea and design (books are visible in the device) and uses this moment to arouse interest of the readers.

An interesting example of the implementation of the book-o-mat is the application of the device in the city district where the library branch was closed down. This gives residents the opportunity to use the library services to a limited extent, but on their own territory.

Recently we have observed a dynamic increase in the number of libraries using the PROLIB system, which are interested in buying or have already bought books and will soon make them available to their readers. New devices start functioning in the Municipal Public Library in Czechowice-Dziedzice; the Higher School of Banking in Chorzów (2 bookshelves); the Higher School of Banking in Toruń; the Higher School of Banking in Bydgoszcz; the Municipal Public Library in Sosnowiec (here even a second book-o-mat).

Before the pandemic, the book-o-mat was systematically used in the MBP in Tychy – 12% of readers, in the MBP in Sosnowiec – 6%, in WBP in Kraków – 9%. Based on statistics from the MBP in Sosnowiec from the last 4. months we can see that this number has doubled and we can assume that this trend will probably continue in other libraries as well, and the book machine will soon become one of the basic devices used in libraries, similarly as a computer, a barcode reader or a printer.

The key benefits of using book-o-mats in libraries are obvious:

1.    Access 24/7
2.    Safety and the ability to maintain a social distance relevant to the COVID-19 threat.
3.    Ease of use of both the device and the INTEGRO catalogue thanks to intuitive interfaces for readers

Statistical data made available courtesy of courtesy: