Raina J. Johnson

Milwaukee’s First 24/7 Library

Westlawn Garden's "vending machine" public library is the fourth of its kind in the nation.

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Jackie Burrell, a resident of Westlawn and president of the Westlawn Resident Council, assists Amarie Lucas, 10, a student at Browning Elementary School, at the new library. (Photo By Raina J. Johnson)

Jackie Burrell, a resident of Westlawn and president of the Westlawn Resident Council, assists Amarie Lucas, 10, a student at Browning Elementary School, at the new library. (Photo By Raina J. Johnson)

Residents of Westlawn Gardens can now check out library books around the clock, thanks to the Milwaukee Public Library’s first fully automated facility.

Customers of the “express library” at the housing development at 64th and Silver Spring Drive walk up to a glass-enclosed shelter complete with a camera and a seating bench. There, patrons use a touchscreen similar to a self-checkout or an automated teller machine to make transactions. Like any other library in the system, users need a library card and PIN to access materials. The county catalog, the tool that allows users to search the entire library system, is also available.

The machine holds up to 340 items. According to librarian Jacki Potratz, library officials asked patrons what genres and titles they would like to see included. Fiction and nonfiction titles are available.

“Our patrons specifically requested books by authors Mary Monroe, Carl Weber and Noire, so we made certain to include their titles,” she said. Among Monroe’s books are “God Don’t Play,” “God Don’t Make No Mistakes,” “God Still Don’t Like Ugly” and “Lost Daughters.” Titles by Weber are “The Choir Director 2: Runaway Bride” and “The Family Business 2.Works by Noire include “Candy Licker,” “Dirty Rotten Liar,” “Hittin’ the Bricks” and “Hood.”

Also included are works from African American and urban fiction authors such as Deja King, Walter Mosley, Zane, Terry McMillan and Treasure Hernandez. Potratz said she will be at the site occasionally this month to talk to users about their preferences.The library is a result of a partnership between the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public Library.

The “vending” library model is only the fourth of its kind in the nation. MPL Express at Silver Spring offers many of the conveniences of a branch library but it is open 24 hours a day, according to library officials.

“I love the changes in the neighborhood, and the library is great. Sometimes I have to drag my 11-year-old from a book,” said Jackie Burrell, a Westlawn resident since 2005 and president of the Westlawn Resident Council. Westlawn Gardens is a public housing development in the Silver Spring neighborhood that includes 250 units of townhouses, single-family homes and multifamily apartments.

MPL Express at Silver Spring is the fourth library in the nation to use this technology-based model to check out books. (Photo By Raina J. Johnson)

MPL Express at Silver Spring is the fourth library in the nation to use this technology-based model to check out books. (Photo By Raina J. Johnson)

The closest branch libraries to Westlawn Gardens are two or three miles away, at Mill Road, 6431 N. 76th St.; Villard Square, 5190 N. 35th St.; and Capitol, at 3969 N. 74th St.

Tony Perez, director of HACM, pointed out that there is a new bus stop at 64th and Silver Spring Drive. “Transportation and knowledge come together here on this corner,” he noted. “We are in a moment of transformation… this is a new community amenity and a tool that residents will be able to use to transform their lives. Access to books correlates significantly with school reading scores and we need that.”

Students from Browning Elementary, 5440 N. 64th St., and Richard Kluge Elementary, 5760 N. 67th St., have visited the express library to learn how to use the system and get a library card.

“You can’t read without books, you can’t read without access to materials, whether it’s online or in physical format. The addition of this 24/7 library, we hope, is going to make a difference in the lives of every person who comes to this community, who lives in the community,” said Paula Kiley, director of Milwaukee Public Library.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett demonstrated how to check out and return library materials. “We are transforming all our libraries into 21st century libraries,” Barrett said. “This is a way to incorporate learning in the community. My goal as mayor of this city is to make sure that people of all incomes, all ages and all backgrounds can live in dignity, and we have achieved that in Westlawn.”

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

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