Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gnightgirl: Crabby in the Library

Can I may be crabby, for a minute?

I really dislike being "pestered" by sales staff. I can deal with the occasional "is there anything I can help you with?" but I do not like to be interrupted 9 times by sales staff in a store the size of a 2-car garage (ahem, Bath & Body Works). Still, if I'm in no mood, I can opt to shop elsewhere.


Let me first say that I LOVE the library. I can't imagine my life without a library in it. I can spend 10 minutes in a library, and I can spend hours in a library, if I have the luxury to do so.

We have a beautiful, shiny new library in this city, and I love it too. But something new has come about with the new library: The staff walks around, and asks can they help me. Do I need any help? Is there anything I'm looking for? Am I doing ok?

No, I am NOT doing ok, I am browsing! I'm reading! I'm trying both to relax and to concentrate, and I have literally been interrupted 3 times in 15 minutes by 3 separate ... interrupters. If I wanted help, I would go to The Help Desk.

Let's talk about the cool new check-out system. There are 5 or 6 "check yourself out" stations, and 2 or 3 "if you need help, come over here" stations. I go to the "check myself out" station. Books on pad, card in slot, and out you go. Very Jetsons-y, but not quite rocket science.

This evening I checked out 5 books, 3 of which had the same title, but different subtitles (Volumes I, II, III).

I had confirmed 3 of the books, and while setting up the last 2, for some reason, a staff member raced over to "assist" me. He hadn't noticed the duplicate titles, and began mistakenly instructing me on which books were checked out.

He then grabbed all of my books, hellbent on fixing the—until then— nonexistent problem. He replaced books that I'd already checked out, causing the monitor to flash large red "danger" signs at me, and exclaimed to himself "why am I so confused?" He then fixed the chaos by voiding out my transaction altogether, and checking my books back out for me. One. by. one.

I'm sure glad I went to the self-checkout lane.

This is pretty much par for the course for all of my library visits these days, and I felt kind of bummed to realize, for the first time tonight, that the library isn't as enjoyable to me as it once was. The sense of "sanctuary" has disappeared, with the constant assistance, interrupting, and intervening.

When I was a kid, you could browse the library for hours, and hole up in a corner, and no one would say a word to you until closing was announced, and we liked it, barefoot and uphill both ways.

Ah-ha. Perhaps I am just getting older, and my vision of a library goes the way of the horse and buggy.

Well. I can't opt to shop elsewhere, so I guess I'll adapt.


Can I at least get one of these?


  1. StFarmer10:17 PM

    I feel your pain. Is there anything I can do to help? :D

  2. Yes. Read this book jacket, and determine if I'd like to check this one out.

  3. Librarians are in danger of losing their place in the world, much like newspapers as technology drives us to different means of information consumption. What happens as a result are some shifting pains while they retool to stay relevant. Some techniques work better than others.

    It's hard to see the change coming and jump on the train instead of being run over by it.

  4. Friggity frack, people! Leave the woman alone, already!

  5. Mike: I can absolutely recognize why these strolling assistants have been called into play. I will absolutely accept these changes to keep my library. Ticket for 1, please.

    Momo: Yeah, still. A sticker, or balloon, maybe, that acknowledges that I've already been approached, once?!

  6. StFarmer11:11 PM

    I read the book jacket and you wouldn't like this book. Too much violins (obscure Saturday Night Live reference).

  7. Geesh, you're good. Can you go to Bath and Body works and pick out a shower gel I'll just love then, without making me smell them all?

  8. StFarmer3:38 AM

    I would help you out with the shower gel at Bath and Body but I avoid going there because I hear the help are pesky.

    Maybe it freaks them out when people open the bottles and sniff them.

  9. Anonymous6:05 AM

    Lori, there is always the Urbana Library. Very nice and old fashioned, yet remodeled and up to date. I love it. They still leave you alone there. Kelly

  10. Here's where my germ-o-phobe works for me.

    No way can I read a book that someone(i.e. stranger)may or may not have picked their nose/scratched their balls/sneezed on/coughed on or spewed some other bodily functions on (wait that is for renting porn movies) before I checked it out.

    I'm weird, I know ;)

  11. I'd get one that says "Leave me the hell alone, I'm browsing"

    And another to wear under that saying: "I'm at the self checkout, go away"

    Thank god it hasn't come to that in our library yet. They're more likely to ignore you where I go.

  12. Ah, yes, the "retail" version of the library. One of the new "trends" in library science right now. A few years ago I interviewed at a library that was contemplating instituting this model. I was horrified. The thought process is that people are intimidated by the reference or help desk and, thus, don't ask for the help they need. But if you approach them away from a desk they'll be more willing to open up and ask for help. I assume someone has done some studies on this and it may help some people. Sadly, I don't think many librarians are trained to recognize the signs of someone wandering lost and confused versus someone happily browsing.

  13. They pretty much ignore you at the Urbana Free Library, unless you ask them for help. Lots of corners to read in too, if you can find an empty chair!

  14. In our little town we still gets books stamped. No looking for receipts to make sure when they are due..just open the book.

    What I did find at the big city library was that my card that I use in my little town, which is supposed to be accepted in the big city, gets strange looks and behaviors from the staff because its a key fob card. I guess the auto lines werent set up for altho it says that you can enter the card number manually...they seem to frown upon that.

  15. Anonymous5:29 PM

    Dear Crabby In the Library,
    Honey, I gotta tell ya, Urbana Free is THE library for me, and it sounds like for you..! I also would like to add my gripe about the OTHER library to your list.
    No due date stamp.
    I frequent my library (3 or more times in a work week) and check out materials on each visit. Four or more tiny little slips of paper to keep track of..?!? Ridiculous!
    Peacefully Reading in Urbana.

  16. Anonymous9:03 PM

    I'm a Champaign resident, but I agree with the other commenters -- the Urbana library is waaay better. Champaign put up a sterile box; the Urbana library has some character. And, date stamps on the outside of the book, rather than little slips of paper that get lost. Also, better quality materials. Champaign goes for the popular, fast-moving stuff so they can brag about circulation numbers.

  17. Marinemom10:08 PM

    I am with you. I had the same experience the last few times I've been to the library. If I hadn't been raised to whisper in the library, I would scream out, "leave me alone"! I do however, love the new coffee shops at both libraries:)

  18. Zia, I'm with you. We're overloaded with scraps of paper these days, every receipt is accompanied by ticker-tape coupons, and I don't save them. I've definitely paid more late fees with the new system.

    I do, however, like managing my account online, I can check up and renew from home, that's cool.

    Anon: I'll be moving back to Urbana soon, so that just may be my solution. I guess I CAN shop elsewhere.

  19. I'm a librarian who interned at CPL a few years ago, and was trained to do exactly what you describe. In my experience, though, most of the people I approached were grateful and did want some kind of assistance. Maybe I was just better at determining who was browsing and who was having trouble finding something, but you'd be surprised how helpful this kind of service is. I was involved in a survey at my current library last year where we found that almost half of respondents said that when they can't find something, they just leave without asking for help!

    Anyway, just know that they honestly want to help you out, and think about how hard it often is to get customer service at other places!

  20. Julie: I actually figured that there's a concrete reason why the library adopted this system. I'm sure there are lots of people, walking around lost and shy to ask, at the library. And I do appreciate that there are people to help those customers.

    You make a good point about determining who needs help and who doesn't; I've wondered what kind of signals I must be giving out make so many employees/volunteers decide to approach me and offer help.

    I try to be understanding, but I still find it annoying. Crabtacular, is what I am.

  21. After reading about gigantic budget cuts the entire library staff probably thinks their respective jobs will be cut tomorrow, and are engaging in blitzkrieg customer service to justify their paychecks.

    People follow me around the grocery store now and ask me if I need help after years of hiding and indifference.

    Don't worry - once the economy rebounds, we shall once again be ignored...

  22. As a librarian-in-training, this is actually a major point of contention between librarians. A lot of people are afraid to ask for help. However, a lot of regular library patrons feel the way you do, and would rather not be bothered. It's a matter of balance, of figuring out who wants/needs (not the same thing) help, and who wants to be left alone. The best thing to do is to let librarians know which one you are. They won't mind if you need help later on.

    As far as librarians being in danger of losing their place in the world, Mike, that's a common misconception. We're experts in finding information. There's more information-- and misinformation-- and more methods of finding information than ever before. The profession needs to grow in response to the challenges of the Information Age, but it's already grown quite a lot. Some of the experiments-- like the one described above-- won't be complete successes. Hopefully, these experiments will help the profession learn and grow.

  23. Well, I may be a few days late but I'll put in my .02! I agree completely, the Champaign library has sent me across town to Urbana. I HATE that atrocious new glass and metal box with it's self check out that is NOT helpful at all and works about half the time I go up there! Ick! Urbana all that way, even with the drive.

  24. Anonymous9:55 AM

    I live in Champaign, but only use our library to renew my card. Anything I want is usually at Urbana, especially any fiction not published in the last 5 years. Why do we only have new stuff? I like reading and rereading more than best sellers. Plus Urbana's mystery collection rocks!! Ours is downright pitiful. Booklover46


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