Last night, my mother and I were headed to go on a group run. On the way, I had her stop at my library branch so I could drop off the huge stack of books that my son and I had taken out. This got us talking about our library system and recent changes.
My neighborhood library is a small, cozy Carnegie library. There are usually about two or three staff members working, and there is no self-check out. They probably would have installed one, but there is no room. My mother’s neighborhood library has a self-check out that you are forced to use, and it is a bit bigger than my library.
Don’t get me wrong, I think automation is a good thing in many ways, especially in that it frees up librarians to get out from behind the desk and help patrons in the stacks or at computers. However, I don’t like when you are forced to use the self-check out. My first interaction with the new check out system was at a larger library with an excellent children’s room. My son and I had stopped at the branch to pick out some books. We collected the books that we wanted to take home, and headed to the desk. I noticed the self-check, but opted to go to the librarian to have her scan our books. I was coldly told that she would check us out this time, but in the future, “you’ll have to do it yourself.” Yikes.
The thing is, as a librarian, I like self-check outs alright, but as the parent of a squirmy, active 18 month old, I’m not a fan. It is extremely difficult to juggle signing in (since I’m the nerd that knows her card number by heart), slowly scanning the books (why does it take much longer than when the library staff does it?), all the while keeping track of my wriggling son, desperate to leap out of my arms and attempt to pull all the books off the shelves.
As my mother and I discussed how glad I was that my branch does not have the room to install a self-check out, she brought up how “cold” the library has gotten. She misses the days of the kindness and friendliness of the librarians who were there to serve you, and the warm, wooden bookshelves. People still long for the human touch. As much as the future predicts digital libraries and the death of the library, I don’t think they will die. Libraries are not only places for books, knowledge, and computers; they are a community center, a place to interact with others. No matter how digital the world gets, people will always have the desire to interact.
My final thoughts about the self-check outs? I wish my library would give you the option between a real human and the self-check terminal, because not only does it make my life easier to have someone help, I simply like talking to a real person.