James Patterson, Harry Potter and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” are so much healthier for you than Snickers, M&Ms and Coke.
Books for all ages in popular genres and several languages are behind the glass in the new vending-style machine that went to work outside the Vancouver Mall library branch on Aug. 15.
“It’s super easy to use,” said mall branch manager Brandon Cruz. All you do is scan your library card and enter your PIN. The whole front door of the machine opens — and you’re face to face with a genuine stack of books. Not a streaming audiobook, not a list of titles that can be reserved online, bagged up and deposited in your car by a masked library staffer while you wait.
Those are handy services the Fort Vancouver library system offers, but the vending machine offers real books on a real shelf.
“We’re happy to bring back a little bit of the pleasure of browsing,” Cruz said. Exploring bookshelves for yourself hasn’t been possible since library branches closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, he said, the mall branch’s Little Lending Library sometimes draws short lines of patrons eager to score a good read.
Book vending machines took off in European libraries years ago, project coordinator Sam Wallin said, but only a handful have been deployed in the United States. Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries started exploring the idea last year when personnel visited the Santa Clara, Calif., library system, where two machines made by Finnish company P.V. Supa were already lending titles.
The Fort Vancouver library district decided to purchase and try out a Supa machine. The coronavirus pandemic stopped the process for a while, but now library officials are back to testing the Little Lending Library with patrons.
“As we were working on ideas to get people access to our collection and services again, we decided the (Little Lending Library) could be the perfect thing to try out, right outside one of our libraries,” Wallin said.
Shelves are organized for easy browsing in different subjects, genres and age groups. There are materials in Russian and Spanish.
“We really try to have diverse materials in there,” Cruz said.
The Little Lending Library checked out 183 items during its first two weeks of use, Cruz said. Staff is studying the data to see what’s popular and what to restock, he said, but there’s likely no surprise. What’s popular in the machine is what’s usually popular in the stacks: romance and mystery, children’s books and series, nonfiction of all sorts.
“It’s a huge selection, and it goes pretty quickly,” Cruz said. “People say how nice it is to be able to browse again.”