TRAVERSE CITY — Each week the staff at the Traverse Area District Library checks the suggestion box.
There are titles patrons want to see on the shelves. Sometimes there's something about the plumbing or the checkout lines. And almost always there's something about Kristi Solberg, a popular library aide at the main branch on Woodmere.
And, as the library makes the change to a self-checkout system, the Kristi cries are getting louder. Will she stay? Will I ever see her? What's the library going to be like without Kristi?
"They're so used to us being there," said Solberg. "You do come to know people. One- or two-minute conversations all day long."
Solberg — and the rest of the 70-plus employees of the library and its branches — aren't going anywhere. In fact, they expect to have more time to spend on customer service.
That might not be in the form of chatting, Solberg said, but "there are lots of things we're going to do," including MeLCat, the Michigan e-Library catalog.
"Patrons will love that," Solberg said.
MeLCat, expected to be ready in the fall, will let people in Traverse City borrow items from more than 400 libraries statewide, including academic and university libraries, said Metta Lansdale, library director. Items borrowed through MeLCat will show up on the holds shelf in the lobby as soon as they arrive in Traverse City.
The new self-service checkout system, by 3M, features radio-frequency identification, or RFID, a benign white sticker on the back cover of books or under a CD or DVD in its case. The stations, basically computer monitors with a pad underneath, are easy to use and several items can be scanned at once. The system also takes care of sorting books that come in through the library's drop boxes and puts them in bins for reshelving, returning to other libraries or putting on the hold shelf.
"It's really going to improve efficiency and the speed we get things back to the shelf," said Lansdale.
Patrick Nickleson, a summer resident of Long Lake and a student at the University of Toronto, recognized the self-service checkout from his college. He and his dad, Kevin, were checking out about a dozen classical music CDs and only needed a little coaching, mainly about how they could stack multiple CDs under the scanner at once.
"This is the best library in the world," Kevin Nickleson, of Windsor, Ontario, said.
Each of the 380,000 items in the library district will be touched, Lansdale said, in order to get the stickers on them. The process began in early June and is expected to take more than three months. The new RFID system and the lobby redesign will cost less than $500,000, Lansdale said, paid for from a technology fund, with help from the Friends of TADL group.
The library on Woodmere will close Aug. 26-Sept. 3 (branches and member libraries will have regular hours that week) to finish the redesign of the library's lobby. There will be multiple self-checkout stations, shelves for books on hold (also self-serve) and a welcome desk.
And yes, there will still be circulation clerk, but "we're going to stress self-service," Lansdale said.
No employees are going to be laid off, Lansdale said. A grand reopening is scheduled for the day after Labor Day.
The library circulates 1.2 million items a year, Lansdale said, with 80 percent of those coming through the main branch on Woodmere.