Exam Time

Date Stamps

Date Stamps!


Students hunched over textbooks, with furrowed brows. Some scribbling furiously, putting their trust in their sense of touch, to remember what they are reading. Examinations are just around the corner and the atmosphere has altered.

Textbooks are popular once again. Huge tomes are being pored over with diligence and concentration.

“Tomes”, a word we use not infrequently, and while confident that it was correct, doubt crept in and I had to check. Glad I did, because technically it isn’t correct  when, for example  referring to “Grey’s anatomy”, a weighty book if ever there was one. Tomes comes from the Greek tomos,  a “roll of papyrus,” and was originally a word for one volume of a larger work. Now, that I didn’t know!

I’ve been reminded that I promised to explain our lack of self-service machines, I didn’t drop that with the intention of making it a hook of curiousity.  Quite simply, we don’t have enough readers to warrant the expense and I’m glad, but that doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to the merits of self-service in the library environment.

I do stress the library environment, because when it comes to the supermarket self-service, I’m a dinosaur. The machines conspire against me. Scanning items is fine, but choosing your bag, placing items on the narrow ledge, and trying to pack efficiently, while under the impatient gaze of queues of people, I am reduced  to ineptitude. Something won’t scan, or I’ve done something I shouldn’t and help is required. My solution is avoidance and patiently waiting in a queue for an assistant, which allows me to pack in comfort.

Self-service in libraries is much more straightforward, a simple demonstration is usually enough to get the person started.  When they were first installed, they created a lot of work, instructing nearly every reader individually on ‘how to do it’. Students now come to our library expecting to see a self-service machine. They wander all around the desk area, looking past the people, searching for a machine!  We have to explain that we are the machines!

Not having the machines, means that we can tag on more information about the loans and explain  what happens if someone else needs the book. We encourage interaction which in turn makes our readers more comfortable in asking questions.

There is another side – some readers are shy about coming to the desk, or they’d prefer others not to see what they’re borrowing, or to know that they have fines. Actually, we do have a machine for paying fines, though most students either have no money on their cards, or prefer to empty their pockets etc of small change. Our fines aren’t exorbitant – usually!

Gone are the days of card catalogues; of paper library cards which had to be signed by the borrower. Few even remember what a pain they were for staff and borrowers  – sometimes ten cards to sign and the writing might not even have been legible. Overdues written out by hand. Computer generated overdue or recall emails are most welcome. 

Gone too are the date stamps to check books in and out. Technology marches on, doubtless the self-service will visit us too eventually.

Some say that books will go too,  but that’s a debate for another day.

Beth Dempsey, Principal of Dempsey Communications Group , a firm which specialises in strategic communications for knowledge organisations, wrote this article in 2010 about self-service. Library Journal, June 10 2010.











Tara Sparling writes

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