January 08, 2014 - Soon the Oxford Public Library will have something in common with grocery stores – self-checkout.
Three self-check stations will be added in a few months to give patrons the ability to check out materials without having to rely on a staff member to do it for them.
These self-check stations are part of a $212,000 revamp of the library's circulation system and lobby area that's expected to be complete by late March or early April.
Making the library more efficient and user-friendly is the goal, according to Library Director Bryan Cloutier.
"We're actually changing the culture of our organization," he said.
The library is investing $87,000 to convert its entire collection from a barcode system to a radio frequency identification (RFID) system. That cost includes RFID chips, the self-check stations, software and new security gates.
All of the library's nearly 94,000 circulating items are in the process of having RFID chips (or tags) embedded in them.
These chips contain electronically-stored information that is wirelessly transmitted to the reader at the self-check station.
Cloutier assured these self-check stations are not meant to replace or reduce existing staff. He explained the new system will allow staff members to "focus their energy" on other tasks.
Given library staffing is down by about 20 percent from previous years and circulation has increased, Cloutier said it's been difficult for the employees to keep up with everything that needs to be done. The RFID system will give them the additional time they need.
Last year alone, the library circulated between 230,000 and 240,000 items.
But just because the library's switching over to self-checkout doesn't mean patrons will be left to fend for themselves.
Staff will still be available to explain the new system to patrons or help those who might experience difficulties using it.
"Certainly, they're going to be there if you don't know how to do it on your own," Cloutier said.
Using a combination of staff, volunteers and interns, the process of placing RFID chips in the entire collection began in mid-December.
"It's going quite well," Cloutier said. "We're actually ahead of schedule in that respect."
Installation of the new RFID system isn't the only change happening at the library.
Approximately $125,000 has been budgeted to renovate the lobby area.
The current circulation desk will be replaced with two new desks. One will contain the three self-check units while the other will function as a welcome desk where patrons can pay fines, ask questions and deal with issues related to their account.
Library staff will have the ability to check out materials at the welcome desk whenever the need arises.
"It's just not something that we're going to heavily utilize unless we have a line of people at the self-check unit," Cloutier said.
Cloutier will be glad to see the current circulation desk go because he believes it's "not very welcoming for children" and it's "cumbersome" for those with disabilities.
He said the new desks will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and be "more user-friendly for the entire family, from adults to children."
The renovated lobby area will contain new and expanded shelving for items placed on hold by patrons and items being sold by the Oxford Public Library Friends.
The area containing all of the library's audiovisual materials will be re-carpeted as part of the renovation and new security gates installed as part of the RFID system.
Cloutier anticipates construction will begin sometime in mid-to-late February.
"We're working on the drawings right now and getting the budget in place for that," he said.
Once work begins, the library's main entrance/exit will be closed. During that time, the circulation desk will be relocated to the building's south side by the tower doors, which will temporarily serve as the main entrance/exit.
Once the RFID system is operational and the lobby renovation complete, Cloutier plans to hold a grand reopening event.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.