Sunday, March 04, 2007

Library "Service"?

Oh woe is me. My inner selfish beast has surfaced over this weekend during a trip to the library. Over the years I have come to have a love hate relationship with our library system. It is very large with more than 20 branch locations. As a little girl and again as a teen (working as a page) I spent many hours in the library. However, I was always intimidated by the arrangement and service. Back in the day there was usually just one librarian on duty and one check out clerk. Now days the branches are very large (and more used) and usually have two or three librarians and a dozen or more clerks. In the olden days we didn’t have “children’s” librarians and to use the reference desk you had to be accompanied by an adult to ask a question or at least that was the implied message sent to the young ones. But, in the late 80’s and through the 90’s the library was very focused on customer service and programs and the library was an easy place to visit and find materials.

As I visited our library yesterday I discovered they have yet again cut back on services, librarian qualifications (a whole posting in itself), and hours. I was “informed” as I entered the queue to check out my books that there were other self check stations opened. I wasn’t sure what the smart mouthed young adult meant, but ignored her sarcasm and waited until the familiar clerk was available. It was then that another person behind the desk “informed” me that all the libraries are now self-check out and they no longer do it for you. Mind you there are no posted signs or instructions nor had I seen any previous notices about this change. I proceeded to the opened window area to be greeted by a monitor and scanner. Being familiar with grocery store checkouts I had a reasonable idea as to how it worked. As I started to scan a few books wouldn’t enter. I was then informed I must have too many books already checked out. Interesting as this was the first visit in a while and we have no library books currently checked out. After some verbal debate and card confirmation I asked them to see if the books were on hold and that is why they couldn’t be checked out. Nope, they don’t know why they wouldn’t scan so just go ahead and take them with out checking them out. I thanked the clerk, but declined, as I didn’t want to be responsible for books that aren’t in my name. The clerk was very adamant that I take the book so I did.

The real sad part of this whole exchange was the lack of help those asking for received and the layout didn’t looks as if young ones could reach the scanners. (This then brought up questions about elderly that are computer phobic and those that are new to libraries like our immigrant population.) There were a number of people asking for help with the scanners or just trying to locate books. But, the smart mouthed young adult was more than rude to so many insisting she was not allowed out behind the counter and that those asking should see the librarian. These librarians being only two that day were already swamped helping others. As a side note checking out the books could have been a breeze, but then you have to add a print out receipt to each book’s pocket to keep the security from buzzing on the way out. If you have a lot of books it can be a hassle, plus where are those cards they used to use that would make it so much quicker?

So, in addition to not only having to locate your own "hold" materials sitting out for anyone to select from, but you have to check your own books out, and the collections held at each library now change as they no longer send other branch books back to the original collection. So, if the computer says the book is in the branch’s collection that will not always be the case. I totally understand the need to cut back on expenses, but it seems the system did a quick jerk the band-aid off change without informing their public. I am looking at this new change from a customer side and selfish at that. If I were the library I could see some justification in the changes, but I am not working for them at reduced again wages like their grumbling staff is.

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Blogger mjd said...

Hmm, since one of my favorite relatives is a librarian and since I met my husband, Daddy D, in a library where we were both employed, I am saddened to hear about such a state of affairs in public libraries. Furthermore, you have sited just one more example of the world becoming even more impersonel and another example of a machine replacing a person. I remember the first automated phone call from our library reminding me that I had a book or two overdue. Now, if the self-check-out system were more efficient than people, we might be able to understand at least one reason for the self-check out. However, it seems that the system is ineffective, and because of the malfunction, the library personnel spend more time trying to figure out the status of the books that would not scan. And then, they encourage you to take books without checking them out formally. Maybe they should consider allowing some hand processing when the system fails. Benjamin Franklin and Melvil Dewey must turning in their graves.

6:52 PM  
Blogger daddy d said...

All of that badness just should not be present in a library. The education of the general public is the main goal. They need to get on with that mission.

11:27 PM  
Blogger Genizah Keeper said...

That's horrifying. It makes me very sad. I hope it will just be a phase that will swing back the other way soon. I'm very glad they haven't done that at our library.

11:51 AM  

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