Sunday, 15 August 2010

Today I will (not) be mostly visiting the library but

I feel for Penny Dolan over on Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Now please do not get the wrong impression. I love my local library. I visit it often. I know all the staff. The staff all know me. When I go in I am just as likely to be greeted with "Here's Cat she might know..." as with "Hello Cat...". I do not mind in the least....after all if the person in charge of the children's section is not there I might be the next best thing. If someone wants to know about the knitting books I am probably the best thing. (We do not have many and I have borrowed them all - mostly out of curiosity.)
Our library has changed over the years I have known it. When we first moved into the district it was new and smaller than it is now, indeed only about half the size. It had been open less than a week when the staff were saying it should be larger. It took years of lobbying to extend it because it meant taking up a tiny amount of the precious memorial park space. Non-readers were opposed to it. I think the old soldiers, to whose memory the park is dedicated, would be very happy to see it being used so much.
Back when I first borrowed the cards were cardboard, then cards were laminated, now they are plastic with a magnetic strip . Once you could use them for borrowing books and the occasional magazine. Now you can use them for borrowing books, many magazines, CDs, DVDs, talking books and other items like the pen for putting security markings on your valuables around home.
The library also has tea and coffee, lounge chairs, computer terminals and two small meeting rooms that can be turned into one larger meeting room. It now has book groups, a knitting group, a gardening group, workshops on book binding, computing, film making and other less likely topics - like a secondhand clothes exchange for teens.
It used to be a fairly quiet place, not the super quiet library of my childhood where you tip-toed (if you could) in and whispered to the librarian but at least quiet. Now it is just as likely to be noisy because there is a tutorial going on in one corner, storytelling in another or someone has hauled out the television set to watch a big match while they work. Even some of the smallest children know how to go to the main desk and climb up on the little ledge to pass over their own cards and get their own books issued.
We do not yet issue our own books there - although I do in other libraries I belong to and it will come to ours. They are holding out for present because the face to face contact tells the library staff more about what people are reading, whether they enjoyed it and why.
And I think that is when the library will change again. The library in the next council district has a self-issuing machine. It is possible to go in and borrow a book without speaking to anyone. The library staff are remote, books tend to be re-shelved in silence. The staff do not know the borrowers. It has become, like so many other things, automated. I know the system saves on wages but it loses on so much else.
I wonder what there will be to read then? How will they know what we want to read? We can borrow books but we may not read. We can read them but we may not enjoy them. You cannot give feedback to an automatic borrowing machine. You need a person for that.


Anonymous said...

You do indeed Cat, as my wife has found working from home! You cannot get the same feedback from merely ticking a box which says, "I liked this book".

Rachel Fenton said...

I'd like to have both options. The self-service machine is a good way to keep my son amused/helping while I check books out and then the staff are brilliant whenever I need help.