A worker from Shenzhen Library demonstrates how to use an automated librarian machine near the library on Monday, April 7, 2008. [Photo: Shenzhen Special Zone Daily]
BEIJING, April 8 -- Locals in Shenzhen, a booming city in southern China, no longer need to visit libraries in person. Instead, they can borrow and return books from a library automation system much like banks' ATMs.
Shenzhen Special Zone Daily reports that a sample automated librarian machine, which is connected to the Shenzhen Library database and powered by Radio Frequency Identification technology (RFID), began test operations on Monday in front of the new library building.
The Integrated Library Automation System (ILAS), appraised as the Promotion Project of Major Science and Technology Achievement by the Ministry of Culture, enables the automated machines to tap into Shenzhen Library's collection of 2.17 million plus books.
The ILAS system includes self-checkout and return, security gates, and programming and circulation stations. All forms of media available at the library will be RFID tagged, from books to CDs to videos to library cards.
The report says the machine can hold more than 400 books, which are encased inside a glass window and circulate on a three-layer conveyor belt to facilitate readers' selection. The machine is equipped with a box to hold returned books and a computer to help readers search for book information. The round-the-clock service system can even issue library cards.
"It's really convenient. It only took 16 seconds to issue a book card, and half a minute to eject books," a local library patron surnamed La told the newspaper after testing the machine near the library.
Readers can also reserve books through the library Web site or the machine. Once the book is available, the reader will receive a text message, and the book will be delivered to the self-service machines closest to the reader.
The patented machine was jointly created by Shenzhen Library and Shenzhen Seaever Intelligent Technology Co. Ltd. Professor Tan Xiangjin from Sun Yat-sen University said that the invention has created a new mode of library service for the world.
RFID-enabled library automation system cost no more than 400,000 yuan (57,131 US dollars) to build, much less than setting up a small-scale branch library. The city plans to build 30 to 50 automated librarian machines this year in public places including subway, supermarkets and office buildings. The machine can currently be installed only indoors, but outdoor machines are under development.