Warning: A rant.
I am a huge believer in public libraries. I have great faith in the power of education, and even if you aren't getting that education from another source (at home or school), libraries help level the playing field. Although I vote down almost every other suggested tax increase, I ALWAYS vote for the libraries.
But that's about to change. Our two local library districts (San Jose and Santa Clara County) have both spent goodness-only-knows how much money installing something like this:
What is it? An automatic book return.
At first glance and first thought, it seems to be a wonderful idea! The books with barcodes are automatically logged in the computer system, thereby saving an employee many hours of manually returning the books.
*They are very difficult to use. Granted, I am not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree, but I do have 20 years of formal schooling behind me (all in different grades, by the way) and I even figured out how to set up our DVD player all on my own. So I wouldn't say I'm more technologically challenged than the next person. But I cannot get these machines to work. You have to line up the barcode and the book spine onto the conveyor belt in such a precise manner that there is absolutely no way I can do it on the first try.
So I stand there with a sackful of books to return (while my three children are in the car threatening to kill each other or at minimum do grievous bodily injury using only sippy cups and Barney DVDs), sending them through one at a time, only to have them spit back out at me, until I give up and shove them hard enough so they pop through the door and fall off the conveyor belt on the other end.
*They take too long. The return process has never taken me less than five minutes. This may not seem like a long time, but it is! Think about how people return things -- to the library, to the video store, to the car rental place. They want to pull up, drop it in a slot, and walk (or drive) away. They do not want to stand in line to take things back. They're DONE with whatever it is they are returning and want the whole transaction to be streamlined.
This is in direct contrast to how people are when they borrow things. If I am checking books OUT, I do not mind standing in line for a few minutes. I EXPECT it to take a few minutes. Checking things out usually comes at the end of a nice browsing session where I've already spent at least 15 minutes in the library (or video store) making my selections. But when I'm returning something, let me do it and get it done (especially when my kids are about to kill each other in the back seat of the car).
I went to the library the other day and saw a line of FIVE PEOPLE waiting to return their books. Ridiculous! If each person takes five minutes, that means it's going to take me half an hour to get my books back to the library!
My main complaint is that the libraries have forgotten who they are serving, and have focused on using technology to make THEIR lives easier, not ours. And that, my friends, is not where I want my money to go. In fact, I would strongly recommend they return their fancy gizmos and get their $30 or $50 or $100K back, and instead hire someone to come curbside, directly to my car, and take my books from me so I don't even have to get out.
Now THAT would be money well spent. Particularly if they could give me a little backrub and maybe a lollipop for the kids, too.