Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking for a real book in a library

While on holiday I got a message to say that a book I had requested was ready for collection from the library. Back from holidays I went to the library and asked at the front desk for the book. But was told that because I had taken so long the book was no longer there.

What I found somewhat perplexing was that the person at the desk seemed to have no way to find out where the item was now, nor any interest in helping me find it. After some time standing there waiting for them to tell me where the book was, I asked them if they knew where it was. The response what as my book request had expired all record of it had been deleted from the computer. I assumed the staff would then look up the location of the book in another system and stood there a little longer. But getting no response I said "perhaps I will look in the catalogue?".

The catalogue said the item was on the shelf. So I went looking for it. As with many modern libraries there are no books on the main floor, just computers. The books are hidden in the basement and on the upper floors. Finding a sign which indicated these books were in the basement, I entered the lift and pressed the button for the lowest level. Nothing happened. Then I noticed a sign against that level saying "staff only". So I went to the information desk and asked how I got books out of the basement. The staff member looked at me like I was an idiot and said: "use the stairs".

After finding the stairs to the basement I was confronted by a row of shelving which seemed to stretch to the far distance. There were one or two people down there who looked like they had not seen daylight for some time. In the place where I expected to find my book on e-records, there were books in Thai. So looked in another section, then on the sorting shelves, then on the upper levels of the building.

Giving up in frustration, I went back to my desk and sent a query to "Ask a Librarian", which Australian libraries seem to have standardised on. I asked "Is there somewhere else I should be looking?" and commented "I realise that it is a somewhat old fashioned concept, but it might be useful to have some staff in the library to help people find books." Ten minutes later there was email from the library. I thought "that was quick". But the message was telling me another unrelated book had arrived.

When I collected that book the next day I found the one I had been looking for also waiting for me. Then an apology arrived by email, then another apology from someone else at the library and another.

It turned out that the people I had asked where the stairs were was the reference desk for the library and I could have asked for help finding the book there. But the desk was labelled something like "iHelp" and was stocked with pamphlets for computer courses, so I assumed this was just for help with computer use.

Perhaps I should see this as success with the process of turning libraries into online information centres, but it is a little sad to see the passing of the era when libraries were about books (that is "paper" books).

1 comment:

Kerrie Smith said...

in our library Tom, we can't get any information about when a book is due back in - apparently that is seen as a breach of privacy even though you don't actually want the name of the borrower who has it.
Just recently my library card was due to expire and could not be renewed by the librarian on the desk until the expiry date because she couldn't over ride the system. The effect was that I could not use the online system to extend a book loan because I was asking for a date beyond the expiry date. Very grrful