According to a 2010 article in Library Journal, “85 percent of libraries offer some sort of self-service, and that percentage goes up with the size of the population served.” The variety of self-service options include: self checkout, book and DVD vending machines, automated computer booking and online account access. The article also found that overall libraries and patrons are happy with self-service options, but as with anything there are some possible drawbacks.
Whether or not to embrace self-service, and what kinds of self-services to offer, is an individual decision for each library. Smaller libraries simply may not be able to justify the cost of some self-service options, while larger libraries may find that they recoup the costs quickly by freeing up staff for other tasks. Moving beyond cost, the most important factor to consider is overall customer service and support.
Online tools, such as library card registration, renewals and holds are relatively easy to implement, and provide customers with increased service. While they often are still able to take care of these tasks in person, they are also able to take care of them outside of library hours on their own schedule. Similarly, book and DVD vending machines offer patrons access to popular materials at all hours, without altering access to library services during normal business hours.
A tool like automated computer books frees librarians from the odious task of monitoring computer use and referring disputes. It frees up the time and energy of staff, and prevents them from having to engage with the public in a negative way.
Self-checkout can also free up staff time and streamline library services, but it can have the disadvantage of limiting face to face time between staff and patrons. One potential way of addressing this issue is to have staff available in other ways, such as meeting and greeting patrons as they enter the library, triaging requests and helping direct them to the Reference desk or library catalog stations.
When considering any library self-service option, it is important to remember there will be a learning curve for patrons. Training and advertising are key elements to a successful role out. Staff should be available to assist patrons with the transition and answer questions. A customer feedback system can be used to monitor success.