There is a white machine the size of a refrigerator sitting next to the front door of the Soldotna Public Library that looks straight out “Star Trek.” Futuristic and sleek, it is the latest tool the library will use to stay connected to the community as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
The machine is a holds locker, and it allows library patrons to pick up library items that they have on hold even if the building is closed. Patrons will need to use their library card and PIN number to access their holds.
The City of Soldotna greenlighted the use of CARES Act money for the purchase in July of last year. The library also used CARES Act funds to launch the “Soldotna Library Self-Checkout” app from MeeScan in October, which allows library patrons to check out library items from a mobile device. The functionality of the app was later expanded to allow patrons to improve their curbside library services by being able to remotely communicate to library staff when they arrive, where they are parked and what their car looks like.
Assistant librarian Ryanna Thurman said that there was some concern that the lockers wouldn’t arrive before the CARES Act deadline, and that they were grateful when that deadline was extended by Congress.
Thurman said that as of Friday, the locker is being used upon request only while the library works to integrate it into their checkout platform. Once it is fully integrated, which Thurman estimated will take a couple of weeks, users will be able to select the locker as a “pickup location” on the library’s virtual catalogue. That is how librarians will know to put their holds in the locker unit.
To use the holds locker, library patrons scan their library card or, if they do not have it, type their card number onto the digital keypad. After that, the items that have been placed on hold are automatically checked out and the door to whichever locker they are in pops open. Patrons are then free to retrieve their items and to print a receipt.
The biggest benefits to having the lockers, Thurman said, is that it allows people to pick up library materials even if the library is closed and because it minimizes contact.
“We’re really excited and we love new technology and new gadgets,” Thurman said. “I think it’s gonna be a really good bonus for our community.”
The Soldotna Public Library is set to reopen to the public on Jan. 18.