Bookworm heaven: Automatic 24hr book dispensers set to become 2022’s newest trend
Easily mistaken for the parcel lockers that have become such an endemic feature of Poland’s towns and cities, automatic book dispensers have taken the country by storm and look set to become one of the dominant urban trends of 2022.
Yet whilst paczkomats have faced a backlash in some quarters on account of their ugly visual style, book machines have received a far warmer response with many admirers praising them for the innovative way in which they have returned reading to the limelight.
First appearing in Łódź’s Manufaktura complex in the summer of 2020, the idea has since taken off rapidly with an increasing number of cities getting in on the act.
Named Szuflandia, the Łódź prototype was hailed across the country as a pioneering concept and was born from an initiative by the City Library.
At the time, Paweł Braun, the director of the City Library in Łódź, stated that the first such book dispenser had been created partially in response to the first lockdown: “We wanted to reach an even wider audience than before, and realized that Szuflandia would not limit readers by either its opening times nor the restrictions that had arisen because of the pandemic.”
Kitted out with 93 slots, each containing a book within, Szuflandia found itself described in the press as a cross between a parcel locker and a sandwich dispenser, with users able to access the titles with a library chip card.
Though costing a steep PLN 100,000 to install, it proved an instant hit with its stock requiring replenishment after its opening weekend of action.
Noting this success, it wasn’t long before other cities were emulating Łódź and 2021 saw a rash of book machines rolled out around the nation – a trend that grew stronger as the year progressed.
However, Polish libraries have not simply mimicked what came before.
Debuting in August, in Kraków’s instance the first self-service ‘książkomats’ were tweaked so as to enable library cardholders to log into their account remotely, browse the collection and then order a book or audiobook to de delivered the locker of their choosing.
Once delivered, users would then be alerted by email that the drop-off had been made.
Financed in some cases by the Ministry of Culture, and in others by local city halls, it is this revised concept that has gained the most traction.
In Gdańsk, four such units were unveiled at the tail end of December with the city citing them as being “a perfect solution for busy and over-worked people who lack the time to visit the library during normal working hours,” as well as “parents with children, those afraid of catching Covid, the disable, immigrants or those that were shy and avoided public places.”
Jarosław Zalesiński, director of the Provincial and Municipal Public Library in Gdańsk, said: “these bookstores are a new form of reaching readers and are a modern way to promote reading. We want Gdańsk to be part of the times.”
Zalesiński continued: “Their location in the vicinity of libraries complements the cultural infrastructure. We see this as an attempt to meet the expectations and needs of modern readers. Since parcel machines are already used by entire families, we believe that thse bookstores will also appeal to children and adolescents, who quickly adpat to new technologies and catch modern trends.”
Poland’s secondary and tertiary cities have also caught the reading bug and the last few weeks have seen książkomats introduced to locations such as Kielce, Grójec, Żnin, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Świdnik, Bydgoszcz, Sosnowiec and many more besides.
Moreover, beyond just books alone, several libraries are now striving to make their entire offer available for remote order including movies and music.
Presenting round-the-clock, contactless access to a wealth of titles, the machines are being credited with driving a new era and have been hailed for the manner in which they have utilized Artificial Intelligence to further cultural education.
But whilst most have been located either directly outside or within close proximity to libraries, Poznań has gone a step further – literally – by strategically erecting book machines in peripheral areas far away from the city’s acclaimed Raczyński Library.
Already nine have been installed, and two more will be added by the end of this month.
Currently undergoing testing procedures, all should be available for use by mid-March.
Costing nearly PLN 2 million, and funded largely EEA Financial Mechanism, other innovations will also include the creation of “a literary recommendation system” based upon a customer’s prior orders.