Reader's Exchange

Technological scene-stealing at the library

Here's one for the life-is-unjust archive.  Library staffers devoted an entire week (and then some) to applying thousands of RFID tags in our books, DVDs, and CDs--and what is our reward?  We are constantly upstaged by four square devices with touch screens, flashing lights, and multiple-item checkout capacity.  

Our patrons love the new RFID stations.  They can achieve one-stop shopping by paying fines and checking out in the same session.   They delight in stacking up books, watching mesmerized as the titles materialize on the screen and change colors.  We have even overheard patrons claim that "I just paid a fine, and it was fun!"  No one ever told me that.Robot

We're not bitter.  Jealous perhaps, but we'll get over it.  After all, we enjoy the self-checks, too, and we never, ever tire of hearing evidence that our patrons are pleased.  Those of us who don't light up, emit tech-y sounds, or produce automatic receipts will content ourselves with doing what self-checks machines don't--which is everything else. 

Streamlined checkout encourages our patrons to choose more materials, leading to increased check-in responsibilities and more items to be shelved, all manually.   Summer reading campaigns--and even more great programming by our talented youth librarians--not only incentivize checkouts but also generate greater numbers of reference questions and what-to-read inquiries at the desks, by telephone, or via email. 

Knowing this, I was surprised when a self-check patron innocently asked, "So, what do you do with all your free time, now that machines are doing your work?"  I glanced up from an in-person reference question, an email question, the June fiction order, and the first draft of an article, all open on my computer, with what must have been a mystified look.  It was difficult to communicate just then, with a couple of heavily laden book carts trundling by on their way back to the shelves.

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