Friday, January 31, 2020

Machine instructions

My deep affection for my library's big, million dollar automated check in machine has been well established here. More than any human co-worker it has improved my work life, dramatically lessening the once brutal load of book processing that used to overwhelm my days. And it did all this while having no more, or less, peculiar quirks of personality than any of the flesh-based workers I spend my days with. Granted, the stories it tells are nowhere near as interesting as some of my more favored co-workers, but on the other hand its stories aren't as tedious as those of others. Plus, in its simple way, it can be good company.

Nevertheless our big automated check in machine has limitations. Having no thumbs it needs items fed into it one at a time. Also it gets super confused by books with shiny metallic book covers. It can't think and so needs very specific instructions. It finds loose, floppy items irresistible and gobbles and chews them up whenever it can. It can't lift, but can only push in a more two dimensional way, causing jams and pile ups. And finally, essentially, to my vastly over prefaced story here, it can't handle items beyond a certain size.

Because our machine can't handle items beyond a certain size, like tubs full of science projects, or bags of books and puppets, we put stickers on those items. The stickers say "THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK". And since these labels and stickers have evolved over the years, mostly in response to violations of its edict, they have become increasingly strident. 

Today a large nylon bag came bouncing down the machine. The machine kept trying to grab it and mash it up into its lovable, terrifying maw, but it couldn't quite get a grip on it. The lumpy thing full of toys and books made its way roughly to the exception bin. That's where the machine puts everything it can't eat and doesn't know what to do with. 

I took the bagged collection out of the bin. It had one of the most comically large, incandescently yellow signs I have ever seen plastered across the whole breadth of the object: "THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK".


It made me laugh. After all that, it hadn't been returned to the service desk. 

I thought about putting a note on the patron's record saying:

 "Please return items with giant notes on them saying  'THIS ITEM MUST BE RETURNED TO THE SERVICE DESK' to the service desk."

But I didn't. 

Deep in my heart I knew we didn't have a big enough font. Deep in my heart I knew there was no font that could ever be big enough.

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