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HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Hillsboro Librarys Book-O-Mat, a book and DVD vending machine made its debut last week at the Hillsboro Civic Center Plaza. The fully automated library in a box allows patrons to choose from popular books and movies and to return library items, all in one stop.Hillsboro’s Civic Center Plaza has a new library — a library in a box.


The automated “Book-O-Mat” book and DVD vending machine, located at the covered portion of the plaza next to Starbucks, officially opened for business last week.

Not only is the giant box a treasure trove of best-sellers and popular movie DVDs ready for the borrowing with a valid library card, it’s also the first installation in the city’s new “wayfinding” program, a series of directional signs, gateways and information kiosks designed to build the city’s identity and help people navigate around Hillsboro.

While the front of the Book-O-Mat is all library business — touch screens and slots for picking up and returning items — the sides of the kiosk are marked with directional sign to the Washington County Museum, the courthouse, historic Main Street and other places of interest.

“We really started to recognize there was a need and interest in having access to library services in downtown,” said Hillsboro Library Director Stephanie Chase during last week’s grand opening.

The Book-O-Mat meets that need without the costs of additional staffing or a building. The kiosk was purchased for $144,000 from mk Solutions, a German company, Chase said.

The machine was funded as a capital improvement project that also funded renovations to Shute Park and the second floor of the Main Library, including donations to the Library Foundation of Hillsboro's Capital Campaign Fund, she added.

Growing in popularity in urban areas across the county and already a common sight across Europe and Asia, Chase said Hillsboro's automated library is the first of its kind in the Pacific Northwest.

The city of Vancouver, B.C., Canada, is preparing to install multiple kiosks across the city.

Hillsboro's Book-O-Mat currently has a collection of about 200 available items, said Carol Reich, the library’s strategic initiatives manager. Reich said the machine will eventually hold up to 800 items when additional trays arrive to handle more books. By the end of the first week, she said, about a third of the items had already been checked out.

For now, Reich said she’ll monitor its use — which library employees can do remotely — get any operational glitches worked out and eventually build up the Book-O-Mat’s collection.

“People are already returning items at a steady clip," Chase noted, adding that items borrowed at other Washington County Cooperative Library Services member libraries can be returned at the Book-O-Mat.

The inner workings of the machine are "pretty cool," Reich said.

When a library patron returns a book or DVD, the kiosk automatically checks the book in, then stores the item in its roomy belly for later retrieval by library staff. If the item is part of the Book-O-Mat's collection, the machine returns the book to the proper tray so it becomes ready for checkout at the kiosk again.

Library patron can see online what's available for checkout at the Book-O-Mat and eventually, place holds on items, just like at a brick-and-mortar library, Chase said.


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