Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Library Kiosks: A Balancing Act

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Library Kiosks: A Balancing Act

Article excerpt


in 2009, I spearheaded the Thunder Bay Public Library's (TBPL) service audit on kiosks. A task force comprising staff from the children's, reference, and adult services departments was formed to work on the audit. Task force members worked together and studied how patrons and staff use kiosks, conducted a literature review, surveyed other libraries, and developed several recommendations.

As the head of TBPL's virtual library services, I felt our kiosks had untapped potential as many patrons' introduction to our online presence. People walk into the library, see a kiosk, and get their first taste of virtual library services.

Our kiosks quietly evolved from clunky pods of big monitors offering only the OPAC to sleek stations offering a variety of online services. Technology necessitated early kiosks to be physically connected, typically situated where the card catalog used to be. Improvements in computer hardware, software, and wiring have resulted in greater flexibility in kiosk placement and functionality.

Kiosks are ubiquitous in our daily lives. We use them to check in at airports, to find items in retail outlets, and to get cash out of the bank. You might think that kiosks are becoming obsolete in the age of handheld internet access. However, financial and technological barriers exist that necessitate the use of kiosks in libraries and elsewhere. Indeed, at TBPL, we provide an AirPAC for easy handheld OPAC searching but rarely see people in the stacks looking intently at their iPhones. Our kiosks continue to be heavily used.

Library kiosks have evolved from serving simply as computerized card catalogs into access points for a wide variety of online services. Figure 1 shows the current menu of services available at TBPL kiosks.


The services are listed here: Online Public Access Catalog (OPAC)

Library's Website

Children's Song Index (a locally developed database)

Book a Computer Service

My Library Card

Kids' Zone Website

Customer Survey

What's On Calendar/Online Program Registration

"How to Use a Mouse" Tutorial

All these services, except the "How to Use a Mouse" tutorial, are available from the library's website. The tutorial is used in a public internet class. Notably, many of these services have an option or requirement for patrons to log in to their accounts in order to make use of special features.

Although many of the services offered on the kiosks are web-based, access to the open web is blocked in order to keep patrons from using the kiosks as public internet stations, which would prevent them being used for their true purpose--quick OPAC searches. It has been challenging to communicate the function of the kiosks to customers. After all, people walk in, see a computer, and naturally assume they can use it to get on the web. Of course, library staff members are relied upon to explain the kiosks' function. Signs, text on the screen, and the patrons' intuition are also commonly employed to point patrons toward the library's public internet stations.


Kiosk Usage

In order to determine how kiosks were being used, data was captured for a 10-day period in July 2009. Figure 2 shows the library's online catalog was used the most by far out of all the kiosk menu items.

This information helped form the task force's recommendations. For example, this table shows that people attempted to access unauthorized sites a significant number of times. Patrons are only authorized to visit the websites listed on the kiosks' homepage, as well as select children's sites. (A list of authorized websites is currently in use for kiosks in the children's areas. Authorized websites are those that staff have selected and added to the Kids' Zone library website as links and are generally small-scale online games. …

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