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Examiner
  • Libraries making switch to self-checkout

  • When Mid-Continent Public Library customers first learned of a change at the Blue Springs South Branch a year ago, many initially thought the library’s employees would lose their jobs.

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  • When Mid-Continent Public Library customers first learned of a change at the Blue Springs South Branch a year ago, many initially thought the library’s employees would lose their jobs.
    In actuality, the move in replacing a traditional circulation desk with just self-checkout units at the 2220 Missouri 7 library did somewhat of an opposite effect: It’s allowing staff more time to answer in-depth customer questions and to reach out in the community where some still aren’t aware of the library’s presence.
    “A lot of people had that mentally that ‘the library is a place that we come to interact with people, and we don’t want to interact with a machine,’” MCPL Blue Springs South Branch Manager Jacqueline Reed said. “There was resistance on that front.”
    Blue Springs was the pilot branch among the Mid-Continent system’s 30 branches to move strictly to self-checkout units. As Reed and other MCPL employees asked themselves, “What the best way we can give customer service to our customers?”, the idea was brought up during a staff development meeting.
    Instead of having one traditional circulation desk, the thought was to break it up into more accessible, self-checkout areas. That took place in two phases, Reed said, with the second being more successful.
    In early November 2011, the original circulation desk was repurposed – it was long and L-shaped, a large fixture for employees to get from behind. The self-checkout, touch screen units were installed in that unit, “because we figured people already knew where the checkout stations were,” Reed said.
    That worked for about six months. Because the desk was so large, “it was hard for the staff to be in the right place at the right time,” Reed said. “They’re called self-check machines because you can do it yourself, but it didn’t necessarily mean the staff was just going to abandon the public. We were trying to get that message across by being visible, but there was too much congestion with the customers and staff at the desk.”
    Library staff went back to the drawing board. For phase two, implemented in April, a smaller desk for customer service was installed in the middle of the building. The checkout stations were then grouped together, still easily accessible when patrons enter the library.
    “Now, we’ve made it to where it’s more streamlined and it makes more sense,” Reed said, “and, the traffic flows, like, more efficiently.”
    A year into the change, customers seem to finally be at a place where they are happy with the units, Reed said. The Colbern Road and Blue Springs North branches recently made a similar transition, and this week, the Lee’s Summit Branch also is making the change.
    Customer service certainly isn’t gone from the Blue Springs South Branch – a specific customer service desk still exists, and staff interaction is still required for tasks, such as updating library card account information.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Everybody is trying to do more with less,” Reed said. “We are really trying to get a lot more community partnerships up and running, and it’s hard when you’re tied to the desk and to the circulation to be able to have the resources to go outside the building.”
    “...Really, it is a good stewardship of our finances. It is cost effective, and we’re not having to hire more staff to go out and do more outreach. We’re able to consolidate some effort with other branches and other partnerships.”
     
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