China has been showing off its technological wonders as it gears up for the Beijing Olympics this summer. Among those wonders is an “automated librarian machine” that issues library cards and lets citizens of the booming factory city of Shenzhen check out books and other media without entering an actual library building. In other words, the machines are teeny automated branches.

Evidently once these machines are installed throughout the city, cardholders will be able to place a book or DVD on reserve and it will be delivered to that machine in a matter of days. The article says:

“It’s really convenient. It only took 16 seconds to issue a book card [library card?], and half a minute to eject books,” a local library patron surnamed La told the newspaper after testing the machine near the library.

Readers can also reserve books through the library Web site or the machine. Once the book is available, the reader will receive a text message, and the book will be delivered to the self-service machines closest to the reader.

These machines hold 400 books or other materials, and users can search the catalog to place things on hold, or borrow one of the high-demand items (at least I assume that if you ran a 400-volume library, you’d have only high-demand items) in the machine for anyone to borrow. I also assume a delivery truck would reload the machine daily.

I’m amused by the fact that it’s called a “librarian machine.” The only librarians involved here are probably doing the planning in the Shenzhen Library. As far as services to children, sure – this machine can deliver materials needed for school assignments (if kids or parents know exactly what material they need), or easy readers, or Thomas the Tank Engine videos. But it can’t do a storytime or make recommendations as to what to read next.