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02 March 2009


ohhh...i prefer the self-check at the grocery--i even buy extra produce so i can use the keypad and scale.

i don't want some zit-riddled, snarky teenager assessing me based on my purchases--i NEED those 3 bags of Cheetos, punk. i work in a high school and deal with that shite all the live long day.

but your observations are cutting and hi-larious. thanks for the laugh.

For what it's worth, I rebel against using self check in both grocery stores and libraries too.

Well, I salute you. But my question is: how do you have the energy to check out your own groceries, especially after you have been working in a high school all day? Evidently I am just too lazy to survive in this society.

And, this will sound ridiculous to say to someone who works in a high school, but I like interacting with teen boys at the grocery store. They always have something funny to say (to me or to their co-workers) and hey, they're working, so I have to give them credit. I will miss that when it's gone. There's nothing humorous about self-check machines.

I am glad I could provide a laugh, though. And frankly? Everyone needs 3 bags of Cheetos.

Solidarity, sister. I'm going to resist until there's no clerks left--which will probably happen in a few months.

Hey Citizen Reader - Anonymous Library Employee Here (you probably know which one I am, anyway). The "Staff Picks" at the Nameless Library you visited are not actually staff picks at all. They are the castoff "Don't Miss" books from other branches. Good books all, but not the current exciting ones you'd feel fortunate to find a copy of just sitting there. WRT the self-checkout - my approach to it is this: it's there as an option. Some people prefer it, many don't. That said, it CAN be faster than Person Checkout when the place is busy. Because so many regular patrons are getting comfortable with it, it frees up staff at our understaffed branch to do other tasks like getting stuff checked in promptly or getting holds shelved. It helps people maintain some privacy if that's important to them. We ask about it so that people who don't realize it's even there (the sign problem) or want a tutorial can get some help. I can't say anything about the design/use of space issues besides hoping that over time, better ways of arranging things will become more clear. But please don't give up on Nameless Branch! I love working there because I love libraries, their patrons, and above all books, and am happy to see thoughtful readers come to visit.

Hello Anonymous!
Yes, I can guess who you are, and I'm glad you popped in. Let me just say this: You are a great librarian, and I know several other people at your branch who I loved working with and who I love to see--so I'll probably come back in just to see y'all. So yes, your library is still about people. And I am glad you like working there.

And of course I know that understaffing is always a problem. I am annoyed about that because the understaffing is always at the actual worker level--the people who shelve and the people who check out books are always the first to get cut, which is hilarious, because those are the people making the lowest hourly wage and no benefits. If you cut out a couple of people higher up in the organization, you could pay some shelvers for a LONG time. Also, just once I would like to see some numbers on self-check; by the time you add the computers, the software, the updating, etc., I would imagine that some money has been spent--only it all goes to some tech company. I would rather see some cash going to employees in my community. I don't mind having a self-check available; I know some people prefer it. But there were more self-check machines at your branch than there were staffed circ desk stations--which seems like a dangerous balance to me. I could go on forever and ever about self-checks....but I won't. The one thing I maintain is that management will eventually find they prefer having just self-checks and no actual human clerks--and that will be a sad day. Particularly when lines form at the self-checks because the yahoos in line ahead of me are much slower at running their items over the machine than a good circ person would ever be.

Thank you also for the clarification regarding the staff picks display. Point taken. But please, please--agitate for some kind of snazzy book display or something in that entrance, would you? It's very sterile right when you step in that door, and sterile is no fun.

Thanks most of all for your thoughtful reply. I certainly didn't mean to offend you--you and your colleagues were my favorite part of the new library. Which is why I'd miss checking out my books with you!

I'm appalled that there obviously was no attention paid to "The San Jose Way". New books and (supposed) staff picks in the back?? That's no way to merchandise, people.

I'm sad that, yes, there always seems to be a shortage of the lowest-paid, most "out there" staff - shelvers and public service people. Why doesn't this change? Isn't Change Good? Evidently not this kind.

Enough said for now.

==> "Well, at the risk of sounding old, and cranky, and profane (guilty, guilty, guilty), fuck that."
I love libraries - some more than others, it's an ambience thing, and a sense of energy.

As a librarian I agree that libraries should be about books and people. It's an ongoing struggle. In several of our small libraries we use self checkout machine to free up staff time for other things. I personally never use the things, but some people do so it helps. Give the new library time and I'm sure they'll be moving stuff around once they get used to thier new space.

I'd buy the "it's an option" argument if it weren't so blatantly obvious that Management clearly prefers that people use self-check. Too bad they couldn't ensure that the things actually worked before foisting them on patrons.

I'm sure that not everyone at Nameless Branch is guilty of this, but many patrons perceive that staff are annoyed by people who want a human to check them out, and who can blame them for feeling that way?

The privacy argument is a good one for things that people get off the shelves, but "privacy" and "open holds" are two things that cannot coexist under the Nameless Library System's holds labeling conventions.

I'll take two more decent pages at my Other Nameless Understaffed Branch in lieu of any self-check gizmos or additional managers, both of which are on the horizon. The pages? Not holding my breath...

You will have to fill me in on this "San Jose Way." Is that some library marketing example I've missed? I know I had to sit through one of those awful FISH presentations ("have fun where you work") but I must have missed this seminar. And I'm with you--they need to get some books, whether they're staff picks or old "don't miss"es from another library, into that foyer.

You're totally right. This is probably why I'm not a good person to comment on new libraries; I could care less about the building. I'm just looking for a "feeling." The second time I went it did have energy--but that might have been because my 18-month-old niece was with me. It's very hard not to feel energy (not mine, mind you, hers) when you're trailing a toddler.

I know that some of the motives for self-check are good. If they free up time in your library, I guess that's a good thing. But this library was so depressing because, as my brother also pointed out after reading this post, it wasn't so much remodeled as built new, to suit. It was depressing to think a library was planned with such misuse of space and coldness. But you're right. I should give it some time and let the workers make their imprint--they're the ones who'll make it great anyway, not the higher-ups spending all the design money.

Hello, Anonymous 2!
Yet another problem with self-checks is that they are machines--they will break down, they will need maintenance, they will crash when the check-out system crashes, they will slow way down on busy periods, etc. Now, I know clerks, as humans, have some issues too, but I'd still rather take my chances with them.

If I was the staff at Nameless Library, I would be annoyed that part of my job would be steering people to self-check, which I'm sure they're encouraged to do so patrons get used to them. I would also be annoyed that my tiny little service desk was right inside the freezing front door and in a bleak foyer. And I would imagine that some of that annoyance might show naturally in my work performance. I must say: the staff were great the two days I was there. Better than I expected considering their surroundings.

I always get a chuckle out of "privacy" too. I kissed privacy goodbye when I had to sign up for a grocery store loyalty card where they can track all my purchases, not to mention my credit card record, which contains all my buying decisions and can be bought and sold as my credit company sees fit. Want a scary read on this subject? Try the book "Spychips"--which has a lot to say about RFID--which is also on the horizon in Nameless Library. Great.

Fantastic! More managers all around! Totally what the system needs. Hang in there, anonymous 2. If you're a library employee, I feel for you and salute you.

I thought everyone was on the San Jose bandwagon - you know, change. http://www.sjlibrary.org/about/sjpl/sjway/clients.htm for one link.

Note the "Staff Buy-in" on the left. The question is, are they getting a decent, constructive "sell job"?

On a much simpler level, it's got to do with pushing the good stuff, making it attractive and easy to find. That can be done without huge investments. It's called indirect RA, folks.

Here's something I found on a blog:

Now I go to the San Jose Public Library. When I try to reserve something online I can't. After searching the site I found this answer to a Frequently Asked Question:

Due to staffing budget cuts, Library staff are not able to search for and hold entertainment videos (DVD, VHS or VCD) or music CDs for you.

Online or in branch. So I either search the online, see which branch has the DVD, drive to that branch and hope that, in the time it takes to drive, it was not checked out by another member of the public OR just go to my branch and hope for the best. Sure they have the 7 disc box set of Rainer Fassbinder's German television series Berlin Alexanderplatz in rotation

I loved the old "nameless branch" and visited it at least once a week for more than 20 years. I am totally freaked out by its replacement (the sterility, the lack of some kind of book display when you enter, the difficulty of finding the checkout desk, the weird slanty parking lot). I have only been there twice since it opened and have transferred all my business to Monroe St.

And here I thought it was just my library! How can library administrators not realize that when they continually push self-check the message they are sending to staff is "we don't need you any more." If I have only 2 items and cash I'll use grocery self-check, but anything other than that I go to the cashier. It's my way of saying "you are still valuable."

it's been really interesting seeing people's reactions to the remodeled library, everybody has such different expectations of what the library space should be. the circ numbers are through the roof, 75,000 checkouts at central and 82,000 at the new space, crazy. just wait till I get those plants out and the artwork up, that place is going to shine one day...

Why, oh why, did you send me that San Jose link? Gross! Everybody? PLEASE go click on that link for your puke of the day. Let's start with this: anything you have to convince your staff to "buy in" to is not a good starting place. And that presentation? My favorite gaffes on that were:
"Create a sense of urgency" (again, if you have to "create" the urgency, how urgent is it really?)
"Our library customers expectations were molded by retail practices" (is your customers' poor grammar a result of reading your powerpoint slide?)
"Good Service: Customer's vs. Staff Perceptions" (Again, evidently customer's don't value good apostrophe usage.)

I'm going to stop right there. My question is, how much are these people getting paid to sell their system to other libraries? If anyone missed the link Sarah gave, here it is:

I'm so sorry to hear that. I hope they can switch things around or improve stuff so that you can go back to Nameless Branch. I must admit I agree with you, the parking lot didn't do much for me either. But to lose a library you've loved for so long? I so hope things improve.

You are not alone. It's happening everywhere. Personally, I always got the feeling management never really needed or wanted staff (but I have a bad attitude, I'll admit)--but I feel bad we're also sending the message to patrons that they have to do everything themselves. But I guess maybe it is what people really want. I just don't get it. Today at the grocery store I saw some poor girl running her pudding pack over the self-serve grocery scanner like twenty times, and it still wasn't working. I just wanted to stop and scream, "HOW IS THIS EASIER?" (I didn't, though.)

You are a gem. Both times I've been at Nameless I haven't seen YOU, which I think would have helped my attitude a lot. :) I AM glad you're doing big circ numbers; that is such a great reading neighborhood. And of course I wish you the best of luck there. Can I ask you this? Is it cold to sit at your reference desk? My sister-in-law didn't think there were enough heating outlets there to keep the area warm. If you'd like to respond off-blog just email to realstory@tds.net. I was just curious. And I can't wait to see your plants either!

I see from Becky that her nameless branch is my nameless branch (not sure if this is the library that started the discussion?). I usually like open spaces with all the construction showing but I am having a hard time warming up to this one. I am still using the said library a lot and using self checkout (though I refuse at the grocery store unless they're going to give me a discount for doing so). What I notice is that the librarians where you can get checked out seem sort of in a dark area as opposed to the light brightness of the old space. I always chatted with folks in line and had some great conversations with librarians. Now it is in and out and strictly business — no sense of the librariness of the place. Hope that it's true that art and plants will make a difference. The best parts now are the tables near windows.

Yup, it's the same Nameless Branch. I very much hope you warm up to the library because I'm a big believer in people going to their neighborhood libraries (although I don't know that it's in your neighborhood, but I'm guessing) and I like people to feel warmly about their libraries, as they really should be "theirs" (we all pay for them, after all).

I agree with you about the dark placement of the tiny little check-out desk. I also didn't understand the staff work station by the bank of self-checks, right inside the front door. Two points: 1. Brrr!! and 2. If you're going to have a staff member out there anyway, why not just give them a nice counter to stand behind and check people out at? (I say this with a long history of public service work: when I'm working with the public, frankly, sometimes I really want a good counter between us. Because some members of the public, sadly, are scary. A counter helped me be available for the good people, and slightly apart from the borderline dangerous.)

I can't say I like chatting in lines always, but I do always like chatting with service staff. I'm so going to miss that as we move into our self-check world.

I hate the U-Scan stuff in stores, too - I hate it when robots take people's jobs. But I have to admit that I love self-check in the library. It means I can check stuff out that I wouldn't want the librarian to realize I was reading! I know pretty much all the librarians in my three local branches, and I wouldn't necessarily want them noticing I was reading children's books or Mein Kampf or something.

I've seen expensive library remodels go either way, but I agree that it's a shame to see space wasted. I used to live in a larger town, and the new library there wasted a lot of space on the ground floor. Then the upper floors (with the adult books) seemed so crowded with books and gloomy. They went to two extremes in the same building, and it all seemed cold and impersonal.

In two of the smaller towns that I've lived in the library remodels/new buildings were great. A wonderful use of space and light in both places. The new library in our current town couldn't help but be better than the old one - that one was built around 1900 and it had one room the size of a small house.

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