Houston Public Library launches self-service book kiosk at Hobby Airport

The new “BOOKLink” machine at the south Houston airport contains 100-plus traditional paper books and also provides free access to hundreds of e-books and audiobooks.

BOOKLink Hobby Airport
Hobby Airport
Houston Public Library opened a BOOKLink self-service kiosk at Hobby Airport on Nov. 16, 2023.

Travelers at Hobby Airport no longer need to get on a plane to be transported to another place.

They can take virtual vacations by immersing themselves into books, which now are available for free and in both handheld and electronic format at the south Houston airport.

Houston Public Library launched its latest self-service kiosk, and first in an airport, on Nov. 16. As of Monday, there had been about 20 check-outs from the "BOOKLink" machine, which offers 100-plus titles in a variety of genres as well as more than 500 e-books and audiobooks, according to Patrick Atkins, the library system's deputy assistant director over materials.

"So far, it's done well," he said. "That's about what we expected (in terms of initial usage), actually probably more than we expected. If people don't know what it is and they're not really prepared with their (library) card number, it's going to be difficult to get physical books. So I would think it would be sort of a slow burn, where more and more people over several months learn about it and know that it's there, and it'll ramp up from there."

Users must have Houston Public Library cards, which are free for Texas residents, to check out traditional paper books from the BOOKLink kiosk, which is the fifth unveiled by the library system since 2019. Atkins said the Hobby Airport location is the first to offer e-books and audiobooks to non-cardholders, who can make up to three checkouts by using an email address.

The kiosks, which operate like vending machines, are part of the library system's community outreach and the citywide "One Houston, One Book" initiative to promote literacy, diversity and literary equity. Atkins said the hope is to eventually stand up a kiosk at Bush Intercontinental Airport, which is the city's largest airport.

The other "BOOKLink" machines are at the new Alief Community Center, the One Allen Center office building downtown and at TECHLink Dixon.

"It's just one of our long-term goals to provide services and resources inside the airports," Atkins said. "We'll see how this goes as a pilot."

The machine at Hobby contains five rows of 20-25 books apiece, and they are geared toward both children and adults, with a mix of fiction and non-fiction titles as well as some new releases, according to Atkins. Users can access them by scanning their library card or entering their library card number and then providing a PIN number to open the door and take the books of their choice (library card holders are allowed to borrow as many as 50 books at one time).

The check-out period is three weeks, just like at Houston Public Library branches, and the books can be returned to either the BOOKLink kiosk or to any library system location. Atkins said the machine's inventory will be electronically monitored after each checkout, and it will be restocked as needed by library staff.

Atkins said those without library cards, who might not live in the Houston area, can check out free e-books or audiobooks, in either English or Spanish, by providing their email address. After three such checkouts, Atkins said those users must obtain a Houston Public Library card before continuing to use the service.

Library cards can be obtained online, including at the BOOKLink kiosks, and are free for Texas residents. Those outside the state can purchase cards for $20 for a six-month period, according to Atkins.

Atkins declined to say how much money the library system spent on the kiosk at Hobby, which is located inside the main airport entrance near the escalators and TSA screening area. For Houston Airports, which operates both Bush and Hobby, there are no costs associated with having the machine, according to Liliana Rambo, the chief terminal management officer for Houston Airports.

Rambo said the BOOKLink kiosk benefits both travelers and airport workers and enhances the experience at Hobby, which in 2022 became the first North American airport to receive a 5-star rating from Skytrax.

"Literature can open the reader to a new world of ideas, experiences, cultures and understanding," Rambo said. "Books, like airplanes, have the ability of transporting the reader to far-off places where new adventures can tug at the heartstrings or get hearts pounding. It's important that Houston Airports joins the Houston Public Library in its mission to expand the library's reach, and the ease and accessibility of the BOOKLink kiosks allows us that opportunity to offer support."