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Award -winning tech makes an award-winning school library. Read more.

Headington school library logo
Designed to mimic a university library, the library at Headington School needed technology that would not only reduce staff workload, but also prepare students for future library experiences and responsibility.
The library converted its collection to RFID and installed self-service kiosks, return boxes, and security gates.
The new system aids stock management and encourages and prepares students to be skilled, responsible, and independent library users. The new technology has also won the school an award for outstanding contribution to innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness in school library design and use.

Headington School Library

Published: August 2017

This featured library story was written by Lynn Winkworth, the Chartered Head Librarian at Headington School.

Designed along the lines of a University Library, the new library aHeadington School not only supports new technologies for teaching and learning, but also provides the opportunity for students to develop user education skills that will support lifelong learning.

As part of the Library development, it was decided to install Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) throughout to aid stock management. This meant we could now look at fully automating self-issue and self-return – an option that until now had not been possible. I had previously seen self-issue and return systems in university libraries and, following my research, it was agreed the new library would offer the same facilities – something that would not only enhance our students’ skills base, but encourage user responsibility, aid better stock management, and set us apart from other schools.

The functionality and appearance of the issue and returns system were equally important, as it not only needed to fit the vision of the new library that we were creating, but had to be reliable, easy to use, and support the library management system we were using.

During the course of my research, I came across an automated issue and return system offered by Bibliotheca, a system usually installed within university and some public libraries. This indicated to me that the system was reliable and able to successfully support a busy library.

The physical appearance of both kiosks fitted the vision we had of the overall impression we had planned for the new library. They looked sleek and unfussy. Available in a range of patterns and colors, we decided on black for both, meeting the vision of elegance and practicality. The issue kiosk is housed in a purpose-built light oak cabinet within the main area of the library, and the returns kiosk is set into the wall at the entrance.

The issue kiosk could be programmed to send e-mails to users on issue, informing them of the resources borrowed, and the expected date of return. It would automatically remove the security from each resource issue, and multiple resources could be issued at the same time. Through this kiosk the students could renew their books and review their current loans. It was unbelievably simple to use.

The returns kiosk (otherwise known as “the drop box”) would remove the item from the user’s record, reinstate the security, and send the user an email confirming the return. Multiple items could be returned at the same time. All the user had to do was to ‘post’ the book into the kiosk and the return was complete. Again, simplicity here was a key factor.

No paper for any of the transactions was needed – the system was entirely paperless.

This system met all the criteria we were looking for and was duly purchased and installed in the new library, along with security gates, an activation plate, and software that would report on books removed from the library incorrectly.

For the self-issue and return system to work successfully it was essential all library resources were programmed with a smart tag, and the tags activated so they could be read by the issue and returns kiosks.

The staff and students are issued with a library card when they enter the school. However, over time these can become lost and a charge of £1.00 is made for a replacement. For users to be fully independent for self-issue, it was essential each user had a library card. Therefore, for the first opening week of the library we waived the usual cost of replacement cards. This encouraged everyone to take responsibility for replacing their lost library card free of charge.

It was essential that the self-issue and self-return kiosks were simple to operate and pleasing (or “Cool”) for the users to use. They had to be totally reliable so user frustration could be completely avoided. This we have achieved. Having self-issue and self-return installed has:

Given the user independence from the library staff – an important skill needed for university and beyond.

  • Encouraged users to take responsibility for issuing and returning the library resources
  • Allowed users to independently check their library account and renew their borrowed items within the parameters set by the Library Management System – another skill required at university and beyond
  • Given users the responsibility to ensure emails sent on self-issue and return from the kiosk have been received – and, consequently, the responsibility to take action if not
  • Given the user the responsibility to take the appropriate action should the issue of a resource be denied – it is their responsibility to bring this denial to the attention of the library staff
  • Ensured the users read and follow the instructions on the screen – instilling yet another skill and responsibility to follow through as needed
  • Given the user’s responsibility to ensure the items are flagged up on the screen as issued or returned – demonstrating they have issued or returned their resources correctly. Should this not be the case, it is the user’s responsibility to let the library staff know.
  • Given the users the skill to use both self-issue and self-return accurately and effectively – instilling an essential skill for university and beyond.
  • Removed user frustration on issue – not only by ensuring the security is removed accurately every time so the alarm does not activate on exit, but because the kiosk has never failed, their confidence of success every time
  • Given confidence that their item has been returned accurately – thus removing inaccurate overdue notices.


The self-issue and self-return kiosks, and linking technology, have helped to manage the library resources more effectively than before. It is clear that the whole school community enjoys using the new systems and there is certainly an exciting buzz around both kiosks when they are in use. The alarm rarely sounds to flag up an issue failure, and the number of books we have had returned has increased significantly. Consequently, there are more books on the library shelves for the users to enjoy.

Since opening the new library in May 2016, the issue system has never failed. We had a few teething issues with the return kiosk, but these were quickly and efficiently resolved, and now it rarely fails. If it does, it is usually due to operator error and not the system itself. On these rare occasions the user will let us know there is a problem. We simply reset the system and demonstrate how they can avoid this happening in the future.

The self-issue and return system we installed in the new library at Headington School has been a resounding success. It really does do what it says on the tin, but more importantly it not only aids better stock management, but also encourages and prepares our users to be skilled, responsible, independent library users, able to confidently manage their library resources now and in the future.

And finally…
The new library at Headington School was awarded, along with two other schools, the School Library Association Library Inspiration Award for 2017 for an outstanding contribution to innovation, creativity, and resourcefulness in school library design and use. There is no doubt the innovative technology we installed throughout the library, including the self-issue and returns system, had a part to play in us achieving this prestigious award.


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