Welcome to the Future: The Staff-less Library

[Photo Source: Mountain View Voice


“Self-service libraries provide a quiet, round-the-clock reading space for their users and have transformed libraries’ service model from one of ‘users waiting for library services’ to one of ‘library waiting to service users’” (Zhang, Y. et al., 2022).


“Staff-less library”/ “self-service library” / “unmanned library” there are many different names to identify libraries that now offer self-service hours that let patron access a library after normal service hours. This comes in a couple different forms: The first is access using your library card to the whole library after hours and the second is kiosks that let you do limited library tasks.  This has been a service in many European and Asian countries for a long time. This is a new endeavor for libraries in the United States. The first library testing out this service in the US was Gwinnett County Public Library (a part of suburban Atlanta, GA) in 2016 and since then (and especially influenced by the pandemic) more and more libraries across the country are implementing this new service (Bibliotheca, 2021).

Check out this video from Gwinnett County Public Libraries about their experience with this program:


This program is often controversial because some community members are worried about safety for staff and patrons in an empty building. Last year, there was a fight in a Canadian Library when the library was pushing to implement this offering. Some of the negative viewpoints are of the possible reduction of jobs/job security and safety issues mentioned above (Fullerton, 2023). Many libraries that have implemented these programs claim that it is not to reduce employees or open hours, but to create more access for patrons at a lower cost. Time will tell how this will ultimately impact library employees.

Locally, in Woodland, CA at Woodland Library (which is part of the Santa Clara County Library District), they are offering after-hours access using “Open+” in a service called “Open Access”. Woodland Library is the smallest branch in the district, and the only one with limited hours. This gives their community more access to the library (Morgan 2024). Another local library is testing out this service at the Village Square Branch Library of the San Jose Public Library in San Jose, CA (Open+ Library Access, n.d.).

“Open+” from the company called Bibliotheca is the service used widely for this library feature. “Open+” and Bibliotheca offer software, hardware, and physical setup assistance to implement the self-service features for libraries. There is a larger up-front cost, but yearly it is substantially more cost effective then increasing regular staffed open hours of the library (Bibliotheca, 2018; Hendra, 2021).

Check out this video from Bibliotheca on how “Open+” works:


As a future information professional, I think that having this alternate access for patrons is amazing! It feels like the “future” to be able to use self-service capabilities and visit the library with no physical monitoring. Rather than have very limited hours this feature gives patron’s access to books, technology, and a safe space more extensively. This seems like it should put less stress on staff during open hours and incentivize more people to utilize the library who previously could not make the open hours. This is about listening and accommodating the local population’s needs.




Bibliotheca. (2021, March 2). Customer story: Gwinnett County Public Library | open+ [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAQxJw2H_tw

Bibliotheca. (2018, May 16). Open+ introduction | library-focused explainer video [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bV9DCWMjLQ

Carlton, A. (2019, September 16). Automatic for the people. American Libraries Magazine. https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2019/09/03/automatic-people-self-service-libraries/

Extended Aaccess | Bibliotheca. (2023, December 14). Bibliotheca. https://www.bibliotheca.com/solutions/extended-access/

Fullerton, O. (2023, April 24). Library staff ask for pause on staffless library pilot. YGK News. https://ygknews.ca/2023/04/24/library-staff-ask-for-pause-on-staffless-library-pilot/

Hendra, P. (2021, October 20). Library looking at extending hours at east-end branch without on-site staff. The Kingston Whig Standard. https://www.thewhig.com/news/local-news/library-looking-at-extending-hours-at-east-end-branch-without-on-site-staff

Morgan, Z. (2024, February 5). With aim to increase access, Woodland Library opens self-service hours. Mountain View Voice. https://www.mv-voice.com/news/2023/02/01/with-aim-to-increase-access-woodland-library-opens-self-service-hours/

Open+ Library Access. (n.d.). San Jose Public Library. Retrieved February 16, 2024, from https://www.sjpl.org/openplus/

Zhang, Y., Chiu, D. K. W., Jiang, T., & Ho, K. K. W. (2022). Patrons’ satisfaction with self-service public libraries: A demographic study. Library Quarterly, 92(2), 188–206. https://doi-org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/10.1086/718604


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