Now Boarding on Platform One: Madrid’s Library Lending Machine

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Libro express (translation: Book express) is a new initiative and collaborative project between Madrid's libraries (las bibliotecas), the Community of Madrid (la Comunidad de Madrid), and Renfe (Spain’s state-owned train company). Libro express is the only library book lending machine of its kind in Spain and in Europe. Even though literature on this specific project is written entirely in Spanish, it is a brilliant concept that transcends language barriers. The aim of Libro express is to increase accessibility of the city’s libraries for those too busy to frequent the brick-and-mortar structure. It does so by offering a selection of books in a vending machine on Platform 1 of the city’s main train station, Cercanías de Sol. It operates 7 days a week and is completely automated. The vending machine stores 135 books (popular titles) which can be accessed, selected, and taken out using its touch screens. Readers can browse the titles while standing at the machine or take one of the fliers nearby, catch their train, read through the listed titles, and select a book on their way home. Train riders can take out a book with their Bibliometro card, library card or Community of Madrid identity card (DNI).

The books have a 15-day lending period at which time they can be returned to the machine, renewed online or renewed at the machine for an additional 15 days. It offers a number of user-friendly services such as a receipt function to confirm the return of a book, a telephone and e-mail hotline to use in the event of an issue with the machine, and the option to renew titles online.

Within its first twelve months, more than 3,500 users borrowed over 10,000 titles from Libro express. Statistics from its first year indicate that 65% of the users borrowed a book using their DNI. This data suggests the majority of users are not habitual library patrons. As such, the lending machine did in fact meet its intended aim to make reading and books more accessible to Madrid’s working and commuting population- those without the leisure time to browse through the library’s stacks.

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Why Madrid? According to a 2011 study on the Reading and Book Buying Habits in Spain, 34.6% of Madrilenians read on public transit, compared to the national average of 16.6%. Additionally, 70.2% of Madrilenians read in their free time, compared to the national average of 57.9%.

The Community of Madrid offers additional library-extension programs, reaching over 140,000 users who borrow more than 750,000 titles.

A number of similar projects have sprung up in Canada and the United States. We want to know who is using one and if it has been successful in increasing library patronage and readership.

Photos courtesy of: Elena Delgado Castro at the Consejería de Empleo, Turismo, y Cultura