The following account details the experience of a library worker on the introduction of self service kiosks in the library authority where they work:
My service has introduced self-serve into it’s branches and frontline staff are being told to ‘encourage’ users to use it, not just ‘encourage’ but basically force people to use in order to meet targets.
They are also being told that if someone refuses to use then they must take the books etc from them and put them through the kiosks….now this really disturbs me. If someone makes a conscious political or ethical decision not to use the kiosks because they are quite rightly concerned about linked job losses etc then why should we ignore their wishes and that choice? Surely we are here to serve our communities, we are supposed to be user focussed.
A significant proportion of my colleagues feel uncomfortable about doing this but are told to do it, so do it, and some try to offer choice to the user but feel that they are being watched and have to be careful about what they say to the public, which can be very hard sometimes, especially when you have people saying things like,
“Why are you doing this? You’re putting yourselves out of jobs.”
“We didn’t ask for this so why are you forcing people to use it?”
Management sold the concept of self-serve to staff by telling them that it would make their jobs more interesting and free them up to do other things but all we seem to do is deal with queries and technical problems with the kiosks, so it’s a bit of a sham really. I think most of my colleagues know it was really brought in to cut jobs which makes it even harder to swallow.
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6 Replies to “Self-serve in libraries – a library worker’s experience”
I like self service: sure, there are teething troubles, like there are with any new technology introduced to a branch, but it really does speed things up for the reader, and it does free up staff for more important work – be it stockwork, reference enquiries or good old recommendations to readers who aren’t sure what to try next, but appreciate the human touch of an experienced librarian or library assistant.
More importantly, though, I think the “you’re doing yourselves out of jobs” argument is a genuinely dangerous one to make in this climate. For it to be true, we have to assume that a core function of library staff is simply issue and returns. We all know there’s more to our profession than that, but if we allow people to believe we can lose our jobs to machines, however are we going to convince them that we’ve got skills and experience that can’t be delivered by unpaid volunteers?
My mother who is 87 year old and almost blind has regretfully had to stop using her local library as she cannot manage the self service kiosks. She used to enjoy her visits both for social reasons and because of the stock, but now feels she is excluded from the service.
The sentiments expressed in this article are very familiar to me.
The promised time to provide an improved service never transpires. All that comes are job cuts, the closure of branches and a skeleton service for the public. We still do our best given the circumstances.
Well I have been using them in Finland for about 5 years with no problems. The issues I have with them are: I don’t want a printed ticket for my books. If it is something like a CD I want the staff to see i have given the item back properly (once I did this and the staff did not look properly and accused me of theft, when we got the item it appeared the CD was there in a cardboard extra bit the staff member was not familiar with – what could I do to prove my innocence? Nothing – I want the option in some cases to have the staff do it).
The theory that it frees librarians up to help with library things would be great if true. Will the librarians help me access blocked websites (that are not criminal sites? ), help me find research material that I cannot find easily? or be doing wider community outreach programs for example home deliveries, mobile library outreach services and special events like book signings? If these things are happening great, lets take the drudgery out of library work so there is a meaningful customer interaction. BUT if it means that there are less librarians and no-one to ask to use the library then NO its not so good to have the machines replace the old functions while also removing the human interaction and library professionalism.
How anyone can find merits in dealing with a machine rather than a flesh-and-blood human being baffles me. So many times the librarian or library assistant knows exactly what one is looking for. The machine does NOT. When there’s no staff in my library I’m not alone in preferring not to go. It is just a soulless space. Others may want to charge through life in a world that is peopled by dysfunctional robots – that’s up to them. Experience shows that the first cut is to frontline staff who have been “freed up for other duties” – what codswallop. Think of that when you extol the virtues of the machines appearing.
Self service im our authority has always been thought of as assisted self service.
Who wants to stand behind a desk all day scanning books in and out? I sure don’t. I’d rather have the time to interact with our users. To talk to them about books, to be able to spend time showing them all those wonderful hidden services we provide that we don’t have the marketing budget to advertise.
I love having the time to make new connections in the community we serve, to find new ways to deliver a true community service, to work with other local agencies, to plan and run events. All the things we couldn’t do when our day went beep beep beep.