19 February 2010

The central library was refurbished before Christmas. It meant moving science fiction to the very back of the building to make more room for coffee-table books on cookery, snaking the main fiction round itself so that A and B are next to S and R, and replacing the issue desk with a battery of self-scan machines.

Yes, they’ve let the council keep the library open, and yes, I worked for so long on a shop counter that it’s probably quicker for me to do the damn scanning myself. But self-scans in the library transgress a line. My first librarians were called things like Joyce and Janice, the first people outside the family to validate my belief that reading books was the best thing you could possibly do in time.

That’s not even counting the first thing that’s wrong with the self-scanners, that is, what we shouldn’t invent machines that take away ninety per cent of the jobs unless or until we can bring ourselves not to have ninety per cent of the children.

The only saving grace of the library ones: they don’t say unexpected item in the bagging area. The only other saving grace: without a librarian wondering why on earth I want to borrow that, I can finally check out the dreadful thing. I don’t want to read it, but I can’t be rude about the dreadful thing until I do, and I refuse to actually spend money on it.

I still tuck the dreadful thing under a novel about a conquistador who becomes interpreter to the Aztec emperor. I’m the wrong generation for the dreadful thing. We could be flighty teenagers, but we never put up pictures of misogynistic unwashed vampires in our common rooms.

I haven’t got my card, I realise when I put my books down on the silver circle. I’m going to have to take the dreadful thing to the only librarian on duty after all (there used to be three people getting paid, when they had the desk), and look like one of those useless people who forgets their card, to boot.

I should have paid money for the dreadful thing after all, I perversely decide as soon as I take it home. Attacking its repetitions with my four-colour pen would be much more fun than trying to read it properly.


9 Responses to “Self-scan”

  1. kate m Says:

    So far I’ve avoided the dreadful thing. Vampires are great, but that particular series really doesn’t appeal. I can’t say Robert Pattinson’s recent pronouncements of female genitalia made me any more eager to try it, either…

    On self service: I’m from a family of public librarians, and I’ve worked as a library assistant. Self service scanners are actually really useful – provided people who can’t/don’t want to use them still have the option of talking to a member of staff. The bulk of an assistant’s job is replacing stock, and librarians are more involved with book selection and public engagement than issuing books, so self-scanning shouldn’t be that detrimental. If your council ever uses self-service as an excuse to make redundancies, they either don’t understand what library work involves, or they’re misleading the public over their rationale.

  2. kate m Says:

    (sorry, pronouncements “on”, not “of”)

  3. Old Kitty Says:

    Awwww! Enjoy your “dreadful thing”!But put those pens away – it’s a library book! You know, someone’s weed is another one’s flower..


    I loathe, absolutely loathe self issue machines. Unfortunately they seem to be taking over especially in libraries. I’ve been told by the powers that be (in my Sunday job) to direct all library users to The Machines.

    Yeah. Right. Luckily these powers that be ain’t gonna be around every Sunday.


    Take care

  4. kate m Says:

    Kitty, what do they want you to do instead of issuing books? And what is meant to happen if somebody gets confused or can’t use the machines? (Just curious)

  5. Old Kitty Says:

    Hi kate m

    Oooh instead of issuing books? The other official line is that it “frees” the library workers to deal with erm “more complex queries”, i.e. complaints. Also there are lots of other tiny niggly jobs to do like “accessioning” new books, reservations lists, answering e-queries, online database checking…

    All basically reducing any normal contact with human beings who use the library to an absolute minimum or just to those who want to vent (customer service).

    The official line is: use The Machines at all costs – so we are obliged to FORCE, sorry, I meant “train” these lost souls and MAKE them – sorry, show them the advantages of using these machines.


    Take care

  6. kate m Says:

    “The official line is: use The Machines at all costs – so we are obliged to FORCE, sorry, I meant β€œtrain” these lost souls and MAKE them – sorry, show them the advantages of using these machines.”

    How depressing. The idea of using any equipment “at all costs” is just poor management. I don’t see how that sits well with equal opportunities either.

  7. I’m glad some library staff do feel that the self-scanners are saving them time – maybe the front-desk people who have been left to wander the self-scan area instead are feeling that way too. I hope so!

    I wish they’d have a proper desk with some self-scans next to it, though (the way the university libraries I know are laid out). I feel for the kids who are experiencing the machines as The Face Of The Library now…

    (Wow, the ‘schedule a post to publish in advance’ button worked! I never trust these things…)

  8. kate m Says:

    Well, I don’t think that they do necessarily save staff time – that sounds wrong headed on the part of Old Kitty’s management. (When I said issuing books is a small part of an assistant’s role, I meant when there are no machines, not because of the machines. But perhaps there are local differences in workplace structure – the authorities my sister, my mom and I have worked for haven’t had staff solely on the front counter in 30 years, so it would be difficult for a machine to either save any one person significant amounts of time, or replace their job function.)

    The machine’s usefulness is in giving borrowers the chance to skip queues/not have to talk to a member of staff *if* that is what they prefer. That’s assuming self service is on offer as an alternative, not as the only option.

    By the same token having a proper desk with the self scans next to it would seem a good idea!

  9. I haven’t seen any self-scans in libraries in New York or Massachusetts, though I have seen them in supermarkets and drugstores.

    As for the book, no comment here. I’ve made my feelings clear in a previous post or two on my blog.

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