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24-hour Library will be Franklin County's third branch
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24-hour Library will be Franklin County's third branch

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Franklin County’s third library branch will be (almost) fully automated.

Though its book and DVD offerings will be stocked by librarians, it won’t be staffed by any.

“This will be our third sort of quasi-branch. Is this replacing a library? Definitely not,” said Alison Barry, director of the Franklin County Public Library system. Nonetheless, “it should be a great addition to our library service model in Franklin County.”

The 24-Hour Library that the county intends to acquire from Georgia-based manufacturer Envisionware is essentially a large vending machine, dispensing books instead of snacks or sodas. The machine will be the first of its kind in the state.

“Franklin County Public Library is our first Virginia location,” wrote Envisionware Marketing Manager Kathryn Spier-Miller in an email.

Able to hold up to 235 items, it will stand on a concrete pad under a canopy designed to shelter both machine and library patrons in a spot county officials describe as a future “pocket park” near the southern entrance of Summit View Business Park alongside U.S. 220.

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The machine needs internet access, which the business park provides. A monitor on the machine gives the staff a place to display Powerpoint presentations on library programs.

“On a personal level I felt it was nice to have something for current residents of Franklin County to access in the park,” Barry said. “It gives access to library card holders late at night, early in the morning. I’m really excited just for the added convenience of it.”

Should the installation proceed as planned, the 24-Hour Library will be operational for a soft launch on Dec. 15, with an official grand opening to follow in spring 2021.

The project will be paid for by about $140,000 in federal CARES Act funding granted to the county to cope with COVID-19 related issues, the tie-in being that the machine allows residents to check out and return books without face-to-face contact.

Even with federal money ultimately footing the bill, “we are still trying to be cognizant of the taxpayers on the cost,” Barry said. “This is something that we have been thinking about since June.”

At present the county library has two branches, one in downtown Rocky Mount and the other at Westlake Towne Center in Hardy. In theory, card holders should be able to reserve a book online, which can be placed in the 24-hour library for pickup during hours when the brick-and-mortar branches are closed.

“We’re going to see how it all works,” Barry said. “I think this is going to be a trial” to see if the 600-square-mile county would benefit from more 24-hour libraries in its rural corners.

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