I picked up a book the other day at the library. A place I normally consider a bastion of physicality and the printed word. Our local branch has undergone extensive renovations this past year that have pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up.
The ability of the library system to turn this entirely public and human experience into a totally impersonal and private experience is a tribute to the forward thinking board. And it’s vision to bring libraries in line with the changed world we live in. At the same time relieving us from that annoying and complex modern problem – interacting with other people.
The most disturbing change is the amount of space devoted to a large system of highly visible conveyor belts and the large sealed room where the books are sorted and processed. Much has been made to draw your attention to this wonder of automation. From the unadorned and evidently bombproof window in the walls to the prominent placement of RFID checkout pylons. You are instantly given access to the secret inner workings of industrial book lending.
There is no hiding from this vision. With constant mechanical noise and thumping reinforcing the industrial sorting theme. There are plenty of clues to let you know you’re in the middle of a client interface facility.
Amazingly, the design has managed to reduce contact with library staff to virtually zero. Apparently the new system allows an entry-level librarian the ability to do the work of six previously employed professionals. My guess is that it lets them get on with the business of stocking shelves.
The checkout terminal was quite friendly though. It assured me I had zero books unavailable.