Developments in the library

A procedure I ‘ve just encountered at the library I most frequently use marks what is surely the last stage in a process that began some time ago.

When I began to use the library you filled in an orange card for every book you borrowed, then stood in a queue to have a staff member process the loan. As I recall the cards were punched, so that some elementary data sorting was possible, but these were early days. Then each book received a bar-code, so people wanting to borrow a book could hand both it and their library card, which by then had a bar-code on it as well, to a staff member who scanned the two codes. The next step was probably inevitable: a machine was installed which allowed the borrowers themselves to scan both bar codes, so they could check out their books. And now a scanning device has been installed above the chute through which books are returned to the library, so that as borrowers slide the books down the passage top-side up they are automatically registered as being back in the library.

This sequence of developments has been repeated so often in recent years: when an operation becomes computerized people initialy interact with someone who processes the information, but that person then becomes redundant as people deal directly with the computerized operation. The small changes in my library precisely reflect those that have occurred in buying airline tickets, paying bills, or for that matter taking money out of the bank. I’m not sure whether to feel sorry for the people whose jobs have been lost, or rejoice that jobs of a hum-drum nature have apparently disappeared.  

However, the most recent change in the library is the last stage in a process that is itself becoming less important. The policy of the library is to buy ebooks rather than hard copy ones. The time is coming when there will be few books to check out and return, and the day is surely at hand when libraries will be no longer buildings but purely electronic entities.

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