Touch-Free Adapters for Library Self-Check Stations Launched by Cen-Tec

Central Technology (Cen-Tec), developers of the i-circ line of self-check stations, created Point 2 Click, a patent-pending adapter that enables library patrons to use public touchscreen interfaces without ever physically touching the screens. The adapters were developed in response to heightened cleaning protocols as libraries reopen branches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Point 2 Click adapter framing a self checkout screenCentral Technology (Cen-Tec), developers of the i-circ line of self-check stations, created Point 2 Click, a patent-pending adapter that enables library patrons to use public touchscreen interfaces without ever physically touching the screens. The adapters, which can be customized for any self-check station, frame a touchscreen with infrared sensors. Users navigate the interface by pointing a finger about an inch away from where they would normally tap.

Self-check stations pose a conundrum as libraries reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stations help minimize prolonged contact between patrons and staff and can be arranged to facilitate social distancing, solving two challenges facing libraries working to create a safer environment as patrons return to branches. However, the stations also have the potential to become vectors for the spread of the virus if used by an infected patron. The Point 2 Click touchless adapters were developed to help libraries mitigate that risk by reducing or eliminating the physical contact that patrons have with these frequently used devices.

Indiana’s Allen County Public Library (ACPL) was an early adopter of Point 2 Click, installing the adapters on all of the 42 self-checkout stations at its 14 locations prior to allowing patrons back into its branches beginning July 6.

“We conducted a survey in May to check in on people—how are you doing, what are you most concerned about, what would make you more comfortable to return” to a local branch, said Stephanny Smith, ACPL’s director of community engagement. “We received more than 7,000 responses, and one of the things we saw coming up again and again were [concerns about] cleanliness and self-check.”

Smartphones, tablets, and other commonly used personal touchscreen devices have gotten users accustomed to gestures such as swiping, which doesn’t work well with the Point 2 Click sensors. They require “a poking motion—not swiping—so it took some getting used to for staff and library visitors,” Smith said. But the new touchless feature was simple to explain. “During the first couple of weeks, we had a staff member dedicated to being a checkout ‘concierge.’ It was the same process we went through after [initially] installing self-checkout.”

In addition to the touch-free screens, ACPL has implemented a variety of other measures to facilitate social distancing, such as floor signage marking six-foot increments at self-serve stations and other customer service points. Plexiglass shields have been installed at all service desks, masks are required for all staff and visitors, some public computers have been removed to keep patrons separated while seated, and disposable keyboard and mouse covers are changed out after each computer session. The system is also continuing to offer curbside pickup services, which further reduces the need for many library regulars to enter a branch.

“We don’t have specific headcount limits [for branches], but we’re being very serious about promoting distancing,” Smith said. And “staff have been empowered not to let anyone else in” if they feel a location is becoming too crowded. Overcrowding has not been an issue yet, she added. “People are returning but not in droves. Some are concerned about coming into a public space. We're not offering in-person programming yet. We're still doing programs virtually. And we’re not see as many families coming in, partly because there are no [in-person] story times.”

The Point 2 Click touch-free adapters are just one part of ACPL’s reopening effort. But Smith expects the systems to remain useful even as the COVID-19 pandemic eventually ends. “The reality of working in a library is that we're a public space,” she said. “There's still flu seasons, there's still colds,” and high traffic public touchscreen interfaces can harbor germs other than the coronavirus.

The Point 2 Click adapters “are particularly useful at the present time with the pandemic, but public touchscreens are notoriously dirty,” noted Mitch Czapla, an official for Cen-Tec. The adapters have primarily rolled out to Cen-Tec’s existing customers, such as ACPL, but Point 2 Click can be used with any touchscreen display. The adapters, which are priced by screen size, are currently on backorder, but usually ship within a few weeks, Czapla said.

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