A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

What is a Library without a Librarian?

by on May 26, 2023

In 2012, Connie Crosby posed a thought-provoking question: “What is a Librarian without a Library?” Today, this question holds even greater significance as public libraries face funding cuts and seek innovative ways to adapt to the evolving needs of their communities. This post looks at the emergence of book vending machines and staff-less libraries, considering the benefits of increased access while acknowledging the vital role of library staff members.

The Rise of Book Vending Machines
The book vending machine industry, which gained traction in the 1990s, has experienced growth in recent years. During the pandemic, these machines became an excellent solution, offering access to reading materials while prioritizing the safety of both library staff and patrons. While book vending machines provide a cost-effective alternative, it is essential to recognize that libraries serve a broader purpose beyond book lending.

Staff-Less Libraries: Exploring New Frontiers
Staff-less libraries, also known as “Open Libraries” or “Open+,” have been on the rise across different countries. By extending self-service hours, these libraries aim to provide greater access to resources and facilities. Proponents argue that removing staff allows for increased availability of computers, study rooms, and materials, particularly in times of budget constraints. However, it is important to acknowledge that community members use the library for many reasons and library staff members often serve as trusted guides and sources of assistance for individuals seeking help across a broad spectrum of information needs, including social services. The human connection they provide is essential in creating an inclusive and supportive environment within libraries.

Balancing Accessibility with Essential Services
As vending machines and staff-less libraries gain popularity, it becomes crucial to strike a balance between accessibility and the need for human assistance in libraries. While vending machines and lockers for book holds offer convenience, they may not adequately address the diverse needs of library users, particularly those requiring assistance with social services. Libraries have traditionally been safe spaces where individuals can find guidance and support, and it is important to preserve this role in any adaptations made to library services.

Challenges and Opportunities
Budget cuts and technological advancements offer the opportunity for libraries to reimagine their operations. Striking a balance between accessibility and essential services is paramount to ensure that libraries continue to meet the evolving needs of their communities. Striving for a balance between accessibility and the preservation of essential services will enable libraries to continue their crucial role in fostering community connections and meeting the diverse needs of their users.