Letters in Space

Ramblings on creativity, education, and trying to live a considered life.
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I got a nasty shock this afternoon when I went to my local library with my son.

We are a bit lackadaisical about our library usage. We love books and read a lot, but we don’t get to the library every week, preferring to load ourselves with a truckload of books and then savour them over a period of a fortnight or more.

So we hadn’t been to the library for a while. We sauntered in with our large bag full of books. The main counter was gone, replaced with a slimline desk. The DVD and CD shelves to the right as you enter have gone. They have been replaced by two large machines. There is a sign over these pieces of technology: self-check out.

I ignored the machines, and went over to the slimline desk. The librarian, a lovely woman who we’ve chatted to happily for years now, led us straight back to the machines. As she led us through how to use the machine to return our own books and check them out, she explained that these machines had been put here for our benefit. We won’t have to wait in a queue any more. We can do the whole process ourselves, instead of having to wait around for a librarian to do it for us.

This is the brave new world of libraries.

We’ll leave to one side the fact that the only reason why my local council have bought these machines is that they are ultimately cheaper than employing a satisfactory number of library staff. We will leave to one side the fact that the machines are unreliable, that they don’t always read the book information tags correctly. I could rant for hours (and probably will, to my husband) about this.

The point I want to make is this.

We are being sold a lie. We are being sold these self-serve machines on the basis that we can do it all ourselves, and that this will benefit us because it will be faster.

It will not be faster. It will not be easier.

We like to think that other people’s jobs look easy. ‘I could do that’, we say. ‘If it was me, I’d do it much better than that.’ And then, for the most part, we don’t think any further. This is sheer arrogance, because we haven’t taken the time to think about what the other person actually does. We haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins. If we did, we would discover a hidden world of subtlety and finesse in the other person’s job that we would never have guessed was there.

The sad reality, as far as my local library goes, is that most people are going to struggle to make these machines work for them. The wait times will be longer, and the whole process of using the library made more stressful.

And all for the illusion of being able to do it all ourselves.