No librarians are required at Licking County's fully automated library branch.

Instant access is no longer a luxury of modern life; it's an expectation. Last fall, residents of Licking County added “library items” to the list of things they can now acquire 24/7. Here's the lowdown on Ohio's first fully automated library branch, one of just 10 in the U.S.

When Does Greyhound Arrive?

Paid for with a 2014 levy and operating funds, the “library ATM” attracts a lot of attention in the parking lot of Central Ohio Technical College in Pataskala. “I see people drive by it very slowly,” says Babette Wofter, director of the Licking County Library System. “Because of its size and shape, some mistake it for a bus stop.”

Something For Everyone

The automated branch—roughly 13 feet wide, 8 feet tall and 5 feet deep—is stocked with “the newest of the new,” says Wofter, including books, audio books, DVDs and video games. While it can hold up to 400 items, patrons can reserve any of the 8 million titles available at the 224 participating libraries

in the Serving Every Ohioan (SEO) consortium.

A Vending Machine For Books

You access the service by swiping a library card from any of the 91 SEO systems (Columbus is not one). Much like buying a bag of Doritos, you type in a corresponding number, releasing the book or DVD into a slot for retrieval. To return items, scan your card and follow the instructions for inserting materials into the machine.

Who's Using It (And When)?

The machine dispenses an average of 500 items per month. Because of its location on the COTC campus, commuters have used it to check out audio books. The college's thriving Lifelong Learning Program also has steered a number of senior citizens to the ATM. The clean and well-lit area has registered checkouts as late as 11 p.m.

The Next Chapter

Someone from Sydney, Australia, contacted Wofter to learn more about the automated branch. Librarians also have traveled from West Virginia and Michigan to check out the machine. Licking County library leaders plan to place another machine in the Hanover area on the far east side of the county next year.