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Welcome to the machine

Submitted by on 1, July 1, 2010 – 4:50 amOne Comment

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A host of local dignitaries and city staffers took part in a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday for Alameda’s newest library. The new branch occupies a 95-inch by 47-inch space behind the Alameda Point Collaborative’s West Ranger Avenue headquarters and offers patrons a collection of up to 910 books.

The READy to go book dispensing machine is the first of its kind in the country and one of only a handful of similar machines in California. And it offered the Alameda Free Library an expansion opportunity that, in this time of tighter-than-ever budgets, might not have otherwise existed.

“The whole country is looking at this installation,” said Roberto Esteves a senior consultant for Califa, a nonprofit collective that works with libraries, who helped broker the deal for the new machine and is working to help broker another of the machines for the Millbrae BART station. “Alameda’s been the leading library in the country on this one.”

The machine, which looks like a bank ATM, allows patrons to select available books 24 hours a day, seven days a week after scanning their library cards. The books appear in a drawer with an automatic door. Patrons can return books to the machine as well.

The machine will hold just books for now; patrons interested in checking out CDs, DVDs or other materials will have to go to the Main Library or Bay Farm Island branch. Half the collection is geared toward kids and teens, with the rest for adults.

Library Director Jane Chisaki said the failure of a 2006 state ballot library construction bond measure and the poor economy stunted consideration of expanding Alameda’s collection of branch libraries. And she said she’s not a fan of the bookmobiles that often stand in as an alternative.

Then she learned about a trio of earlier generation book dispensers erected in two Contra Costa County BART stations and a mall, and she and Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant began to explore the possibility of purchasing a similar machine for Alameda. The machines are common in Europe.

“She loved the idea and said, ‘I think I can help you find the money,’ ” Chisaki said of Gallant. The machine was paid for with federal Community Development Block Grant funds. Library officials couldn’t say how much they spent on the machine, though early estimates pegged its cost at around $150,000.

The process of purchasing the machine began about a year ago. Vendor mk Sorting Systems had the winning bid, and Califa helped broker it at a discounted price. The company flew out a team from Germany to help get the machine ready for the big unveiling.

The library’s got just one of the machines now, though Supervising Librarian Annemarie Meyer said the city is interested in buying more if funding allows.

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