Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 6 October 2008

The war we all have to fight

Relucent Reader, lives in Mechanicsville, Virginia, and worries about the threat posed to libraries by the wonky economy. I sympathise. The best public library I’ve used was at Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb. Light and airy, well endowed (it was a swanky suburb) and it had a monster letterbox down which you could avalanche your returns at any time. A first for me then.

The assistants were predominantly women, living tributes to the high standards of orthodontics in the USA.

What I can’t recall is the check-in/check-out system which is one way of marking the passage of time in any country. Scroll back several decades and my UK library ticket consisted of a paper pouch. Inside the library book cover was a similar pouch holding a card that identified the book. When I took out a book the card was transferred from the book pouch to my pouch and was stored in a shallow rack.

Processing a returned book the librarian riffled through the stored cards to find the relevant one. This took time. The cards developed a furry look from being riffled. Frequently they weren’t where they should be. More time.

Now the bar code and the computer have speeded things up. But our reading habits are recorded as are the number of fines we've incurred. There’s a price to pay for progress. Also, no one has yet computerised the need to stamp the return date on the book.

Libraries have a special smell, the same on both sides of the Atlantic: dust combined with something sharpish which may be the glue used in book production. I buy more books than I borrow these days but would go to the barricades to protect the library concept.


marja-leena said...

And now there are the most modern libraries with belts like in supermarkets which transport the returned books to a scanner, quickly scans them in, and sorts them... if I recall correctly from an article a while ago about one of our new libraries.

Speaking of libraries, we saw a wonderful film last night: Sleep Furiously. It's about life in a tiny sheep farming community in Wales that is dying, like so many. I loved the itinerant librarian in his bookmobile, making his rounds all over the country, coming back once a month with new books.

Plutarch said...

One of several enduring memories of my visit to Pitsburgh is a visit to that library.

Barrett Bonden said...

M-L. As you know Hereford is close to the Welsh border and is an under-populated county. In an ironic parallel to the film you describe, I was approached by the chairman of Herefordshire District Council (Call him a sort of mayor) and asked to comment about his proposed cost cutting measures. "How about getting rid of the bookmobile?" he asked. We were leaving the town hall at the time and I pointed to the county court. "Why not privatise that," I suggested. For a moment he thought I was serious. He was, need I say, of the Conservative persuasion.

Plutarch: I'm glad we had the sense to show you one of Mount Lebanon's greatest assets.

Avus said...

I have so many books that I now only buy those which I know that I will look at again, once initially read.
This means the library for all other types. Trouble is ours seems to be given over to a large Nursery Play Area and blocks of computers for internet study. Books have taken a back seat. Reserving books or requesting that they buy a new title has become something of a farce. I seldom hear any more from them.