I was driving home from work the other night, thinking about the new printing system that is going to be installed soon at our branches and all the new services it will offer. It’s very exciting. It will allow our patrons to pay for printing in a much easier way than our current system and they can pay their fines at a kiosk. It is without a doubt the right thing to have to provide better customer service. But as I started to think about how many fewer patrons will need to come to the service desk, I got a little sad.
Let me just get this out of the way: I am not against technology. I have a smart phone, and I like computers. I also like making things easier for library patrons and staff. While I’m all for automation, I want us as a profession and as individuals working in libraries to stop and think for just one moment.
Being a human can be lonely. I am new in my community and during my first trip to my local public library (not the one at which I work) I felt sad that I didn’t get to interact with any of the employees. I had put holds on my books, so I grabbed them from the hold shelf, used the automatic checkout, and left. That was a sad, lonely day for me and I could have used a moment of human connection, a kind word and a smile. Certainly there are other days when I would have been glad for the automation, when I would have been in a hurry and waiting in a line or waiting for a staff member to complete a task would have been irksome. But sometimes, you just want someone to be a little nice to you.
If you work in a library, I don’t have to tell you that many of our patrons are not lucky enough to have good support systems, resources to turn to in times of need, or even lucky enough to have their health. If a patron comes to the desk to return a book that could have gone in the book drop, or to give you a dollar bill they could have put in a machine to pay a fine, or to ask for help with a printer even if there is a sign clearly explaining the instructions, stop for a moment before you get irritated that they didn’t use the automation you provided. Maybe what that person needs, even if they don’t know they need it, is a kind smile and a patient person willing to help.
The holidays are upon us and this can be a particularly harried, stressful, and lonely time for people. So by all means, provide the express checkouts and the self-serve kiosks! Get those busy people on their way! But think twice before you send someone who has come to the desk to one of the machines. Machines can take money and even check in books, but they can’t tell someone to have a nice day with kind eyes and a genuine voice. That’s a job for a human being.