Your Local Automated Library

Being Library Lovers’ Month, I thought it only proper that the kids and I should head to our local library. Seriously, to go a whole month without a library visit is unheard of for us, but moving and sickness set us back. When we walked in, our new library felt all wrong to me. For one thing, it had one of those really high ceilings with lots of columns and windows in the roof with an office section in the center like a super column. Maybe the architect was going for openness. It was certainly impressive, but I felt like an ant. There were two librarians on opposite ends of the circulation desk. There I was, at the front of that massive desk, wondering which one to walk over to.

We toured the building to get acquainted with the layout. One of my kids commented on how loud it was. I’m not sure why it was loud—no one was talking. It didn’t have that cozy, considerate “Shhh! People are reading in here!” quality.

The kids wanted to know if they could check out books on Pokemon, graphic novel biographies, Lenape Native Americans, President Taft, horses, and princesses. So, we went to what I assumed was the online catalog, which was actually one of many kiosks where you scan your library card to check out books. Did I feel embarrassed when I figured this out? No because, at that point, I’d been to three different computer stations and none of them gave me the option of the library catalog. I was annoyed. I finally gave up and walked over to a corner of the deserted-looking circulation desk again to ask where the catalog was. Fortunately, they did have one. (I was beginning to wonder if I needed to use my phone to look it up.)

The whole library was impersonal. That’s what it was: impersonal. A library is a symbol of community. It’s the access point for local information on programs and services. It should exude a feeling of connectedness, friendliness, humanness. It’s so easy to log in to the online library and, with a few clicks, check out that electronic book for a couple of weeks. Easy, but impersonal.

I’m used to going to community-focused libraries with friendly librarians who greet me and my kids by name when we walk through the door. I’ve grown accustomed to checking the little exhibit shelves, advertising local talent of all sorts. If the alarm goes off in one of these community libraries, no one thinks anything of it. The patron just goes back and has the books scanned again—because, obviously, one didn’t scan properly. When the alarm went off in this building, everyone’s eyes went to the man walking out. I wanted to tell him, “Run! Flee with your books before they decide to do a pat down!”

Goodbye, community library! Goodbye, librarian who likes to wear the bright sweaters and waxes his mustache into curly cues! I’ll miss you. I’ll miss how you used to grin using one side of your mouth so that your mustache looked uneven. I’ll miss how you always slipped a bookmark into my latest selection and how you knew everything there was to know about hummingbird-watching—which I had no interest in at all until you showed me pictures of your returning hummingbirds. I’ll miss you because the library is now automated.

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Author: Rilla Z

I'm a scribbler. I'm genuine. My topics of interest are: this world, the worlds inside my head, and the world to come. Oh, and cups of tea. Yes, I write about my cups of tea.

12 thoughts on “Your Local Automated Library”

  1. It sounds very disappointing. The personal connection seems to be a thing of the past in many instances. Maybe there is another library, not too far away, that would be a better fit? Good luck.


    1. If we want to keep the short drive, it looks like there’s one other library to try. After that, we’ll be closest to libraries that are more for the university and/or business patron. We could travel the county! It will be a community library hunt adventure!


  2. Rilla: I like that attitude, traveling the country for that personal library. Fortunately, where I am now I still have that personal touch. We moved here from East Brunswick, NJ, the BEST library in the world. I could call the Reference ladies and they would look up any and everything for you. They told me once, we won’t read War & Peace but we’ll look up anything you want, and the best part, they’d never fail to call you back. Like I said I do have a personal library, but the reference desk – asked them something 2 or 3 times. Each time, they NEVER got back to me. I think it’s a very nice thing to be able to walk into any place and have someone call you and your children by name. I feel your pain.



    1. The library experience is so necessary to me as a bookworm. Your experience has me wondering what ways that personal library experience affects writers. Will the automated library change the type of literature we see in future? I guess we’ll see.


  3. I’m hoping that this blog exaggerated your feelings somewhat, because it made me very sad! Could it be that the librarians miss the interaction with patrons and are just waiting for someone to ask them about “hummingbird-watching?”


    1. You are so my mom to say that! We’re on the same page. I’m thinking I’m going to go back with baked goods and see if I can’t lure the humanity out of the super column.


  4. I hesitate to comment as I’m a libraries manager in the UK and have some mixed feelings based on personal and professional views. Our new libraries all have self service, but the idea is so that the staff can walk the floor and spend more time dealing with queries rather than standing behind a counter that might be intimidating to some. Our new libraries are big and have different services under one roof. There is a danger of losing those small community libraries and this is happening across the country. But this is largely due to the economic climate and fewer resources being allocated to local government.


    1. I’m so glad you commented, Andrea. It makes sense that tight budgets account for some of this, like making room for different services.

      A few years ago, the local library in my hometown was facing the possibility of having to close because of budget cuts. I was shocked. That was my library as a kid. How could it close?

      I’ve got to quit taking community libraries for granted! Thanks for the insight.


  5. I miss the library in the town where I grew up. It was a Carnegie Library, and rather grand for a town of that size at the time. But the librarians were always helpful, and I can still remember the sound of the machine that “punched” the due date onto the card that slipped into the sleeve pasted onto the inside cover. For some reason, I loved that sound.

    Now? Well, of course, everything is barcoded and scanned, and the “beep” doesn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings. We have a good library system in my current state, but it’s not as personal an experience. Technology has changed that, and not necessarily for the better.


  6. I feel for you, Rilla. I really do. I have 4 different libraries in my community and my hometown library is STILL the best. (To be fair, my childhood library has changed little and is still cozy, though electronics have incorporated the library into a slightly “hospitalized” feel in the outer skirts of the building. All of that being said, I do understand the need for moving forward and appreciate the library’s resources for those who don’t have them at their fingertips.)

    To show how wonderful my local library/librarian is: I called my library just the other day at 5:30, to see if they were still open (and introduced myself, since I kinda sorta know the librarian from the community). Nope, they closed at 5, the librarian informed me. And then she said, “What did you need?”

    “I have some books on hold that I wanted to get, but I’ll just have to wait, I guess…”

    “Can you be here in the next 2 minutes? I’ll hold the door open for you.”

    I LOVE MY LOCAL LIBRARIAN!! She calls me by name, waves when I see her in the community, and just…rocks! Unfortunately (fortunately?), she doesn’t have a mustache that she waxes into curly cues…


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