Friday, June 20, 2014

Prepare for your Robot Overlords

Some people know that I have a tongue-in-cheek "obsession" with Skynet, the computer network from the Terminator movie series that becomes self-aware and concludes that humankind are not necessary. It's a bit of science fiction that hopefully will not become reality, but that makes for a great action movie premise.

To (again tongue-in-cheek) help this future become a reality, HPL has deployed a new RFID system from Bibliotheca to help us cut down on the amount of tedious, repetitive work and focus more on customer service.

Our new check-in shelves help our staff AND you in several ways:

  • You can now see in real-time that the items you've returned are actually checked in.
  • We can see right away when an item "on hold" has been returned, so we can process it right away.
  • By placing items on shelves instead of dumping them in a bin, we all save wear-and-tear on the materials.
  • The items you return are immediately available for another patron to use, simply by browsing the return shelves.

Our new self-check kiosks are similar in ways to many others we have had over the last 10-15 years. The new ones do have a couple of enhancements:

  • We have added extra security - you must enter a password (PIN) to check out items.
  • Multiple items check out simultaneously.

What does this new equipment mean for us in terms of saving time? Here is one example involving the process to check in an item. The old process (once you dropped it off in a bin) went as follows:
  1. Staff waited until bin was reasonably full (this meant digging if we needed to find an item to check in early, such as when a patron had reached the limit for certain types of, like DVDs)
  2. A staff member rolled the filled bin to a separate check-in space.
  3. The staff member checked in each item one at a time
  4. The staff member sorted, printed holds slips, etc. one at a time
  5. The items were loaded back on a cart and rolled to reshleving areas
  6. Items were ordered on the carts and reshelved.

The new process eliminates steps 2,3, and 4 and shortens steps 1 and 5. The end result being that staff members have more time to help patrons use the library to its full potential.

I think anything we can do to focus more of our time on actually serving the public rather than performing tedious, repetitive tasks is a good thing. Our investment in this system may be "buying in to" whiz-bang technology, but the goal has nothing to do with getting the latest-greatest thing and everything to do with being available for our users.

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