Friday, March 14, 2014

Our perfect system

When you drive up to our billion dollar automated return machine, its automated voice issues forth with only one instruction. This is because the machine, which, again, cost a billion dollars, is so advanced that it has only one limitation. Just one limitation, as long as you don't count the following, which we are totally not counting:

1. It is terrible at processing skinny books of any kind, which is not a problem because only children's books are skinny, and practically no one checks out children's books, especially not huge stacks of them.

2. The rollers eat and jam on any book not in pristine condition, which is also not a problem since, as a library, we are so awash in money that we replace all our materials after just two or three uses.

3. Eleven or twelve other little things that are too technical to describe here, and, if I'm not going to describe them, I am hardly justified in counting them.

Which leaves us with the machine's one limitation and one instruction:

"Please return your books one at a time." Says the machine's basso profundo voice. I think it's the same voice that does the ketchup advisory board commercials on Prairie Home Companion. Labor as the machine might, it cannot handle items in stacks. Oh, it tries. It sends them up a little hill in a valiant attempt to fan them out, but they still tend to glom together, and, without an opposable thumb, our poor machine is helpless to separate them. Unseparated they are impossible for the machine to check in or to sort properly.

Fortunately, all our patrons heed the machine's one instruction, as long as you don't count the following exceptions, which we are totally not counting:

1. The deaf, who can hardly be faulted for our refusal to have braille announcements.

2. People who are too busy yelling at each other in their car to hear the instruction, who totally get a pass due to our thanks to them for not actually coming into the library.

3. People seeking revenge on us due to various fine grievances, who we dare not count on the list of malfeasance, lest they use their momentous powers of vengeance on this blog.

4. People simply not paying attention, who it would be pointless to count since they will undoubtedly be dead soon in a horrible traffic accident.

And what does that leave us with? 



  1. What that leaves you with is patrons who know they are supposed to put books in one at a time, but they don't want to, so they drive a few miles north to return large stacks or YOUR books at a branch that does not have a billion dollar machine, just a staff of willing checker-inners. At least, that's my theory about what I find on the counter and in the VERY low-tech book drop.

    1. As long as the checker-inners are willing. If not, you can borrow our voice:

      "Please drop your materials into the book drop ONE at a time."

  2. How would braille instructions help deaf patrons, eh?

  3. Haha, or you could always try the solution that was arrived upon at a library I used to work at. A very simple, hum-drum, run-of-the-mill book drop for our patrons. And a lowly paid employee to carefully load the bookdrop books onto the automated machine, one at a time, the way that it wishes. True story.

    1. Maybe it's just my sick sense of humor, but the whole set-up made me cackle in schadenfreudistic delight. Administrators had been so excited to eliminate jobs, thinking this million dollar machine could handle everything, and ended up having to hire a person full-time to baby and massage and coax it into returning the books as it should.

    2. As a person always struggling to contain my wrath towards administrators everywhere I have a strong suspicion that eleven better solutions were passed by in order to go with the 'book drop and employee unloads' solution. I also must confess that I do actually mostly love the machine, albeit with dozens of caveats.

      This older post of mine would much more fully round out my perspective:

      I think you'd have to cut and paste, or find it by hitting the "machine" tag down (above I think) at the bottom of this post.

  4. Replies
    1. Maybe all books should be returned in uniform, machine friendly, heavy duty, cases.


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