Many customers are puzzled by new features in the library. The desk is no longer a desk but is now called a ‘pod’, a Buck Rogers flight deck where there is no separation between librarian and reader. Instead, you are invited to sit down and break bread together, have a bit of a chin wag about the boundaryless modern world– perhaps place a friendly hand on a hot summer knee. The virtual work space must be free of any evidence of actual work. Gone are the days of post-it notes and mugs with day old cup a soups sprouting silvery hairs in the bottom.
The worst aspect of the new pseudo-openness is that when someone complains about a fine their record comes up for you both to see. My Slovakian reader seemed awfully nice, baffled when his card was refused by the self-service kiosk. It flashed up in front of us that he had been barred from the library for ‘brawling,’ nicking material for the Summer reading challenge and pissing into the fake rubber plant at the bottom of the stairs. My hands were a flurry of flying fingers as I tried to shut down his record. He fixed me with his seagull stare. And his choice of books was even more alarming: How to Increase Male Fertility and The World’s Worst Occult Murders. I steered him over to the summer reads and suggested a nice glossy barbecue book.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of self-service is the sorter (pictured) on the left. A sinister conveyor belt that whisks books and personal belongings into hidden hoppers. One old lady as she watched the green light said, ‘it reminds me of the crematorium— that journey we will all have to make with or without large print…’ And that put me in mind of my recent crematorium experience when they played a piped in version of Bread and the curtains closed around the white coffin. The curtains had to negotiate a curve and rather than cry I stared fascinated, wondering if they would glide around the corner without a hitch, and by the time I wondered that, the moment to cry had passed.
Librarians could be cremated cheaply like this idiot who tried to crawl in to retrieve a book from another library. The sorter went down flashing ‘unknown item…’ If only he’d had a bar code.