Well I’ve finished Learning 2.0 and I’m going to try and post semi-regularly (unlike Zoya who is posting daily).

This post is actually going to be along the same lines as what Zoya has been posting this week on her blog Zoyasstuff, it is going to be about getting patrons to serve themselves instead of being chained to us.

At Sydenham Library we have implemented self-check units so that patrons can issue items to themselves. This isn’t a new concept, I’ve worked with them at a few libraries (from Narre Warren library where it was a computer in the line at the circulation desk and people had to queue past it, to a private library in Sydney which is unstaffed and had 100% self checkouts). What seems to be the new concept is moving away from the idea of forcing our customers to come to us to be served. Staff seem to be very resistant to this. And it’s not that they’re resistant to self-checkout, they’re resistant to making the customers use it at the cost of using us.

I see both sides of the argument. I’ve worked in customer service. I liked working in customer service. In fact I take pride on the fact that I can converse with pretty much anyone whilst working in a library (apart from Evil Gypsy Woman of course).

Arguments against forcing patrons to do self-checkout.
– Not everyone wants to do it. Some people are very resistant to the technology and would rather go to the desk. Some just would like a chat.
– We lose the personal touch of physically eyeballing all of our patrons.
– The technology doesn’t always work.

Arguments for forcing patrons to do self-checkout.
– It reduces queues. It is cheaper to have 6 self-checkout machines than 6 staff members. In fact, it’s cheaper to have 6 self-checkout machines for a year than 3 staff members.
– It gives people more autonomy in what they are borrowing. Although we encourage people to borrow anything, how many people really want a librarian seeing that they are borrowing a book on erectile dysfunction or divorce?
– The staff are not always as approachable as we make ourselves out to be.

See, my three points play off against each other.
Not everyone wants to do it, but most people don’t want queues. We lost the personal touch but people don’t always want that (and I’ll comment on the personal thing below). The technology doesn’t always work but, then again, neither do the staff.

With the personal touch thing (which, personally, I think is the biggest issue with forcing people to do self check), this can be acheived in other ways. Staff who are not forced to sit at a desk and wait for people to come to them can be utilised in other ways. Firstly, station someone near the self-check machines to talk to people as they use them. It is like the idea of a ‘library greeter’, someone whose job is to greet people as they enter the library and direct them to places, except that this person would be able to deal with the machines not working and take money for fines. Also, if someone wanted a staff member to issue their items for them, they can walk to the self-check machine and do that.

Why not roster staff to monitor different areas of the library? Instead of being at a desk, staff could wander around offering help to people who look lost and just generally talk to people (it looks like you’re borrowing A Wizard of Earthsea, did you know she has a new book out?). We’d have to teach staff to do this well, we don’t want them harrassing people! Also, to make staff approachable in this way (and to differentiate them from customers), we’d need some kind of uniform.

Also, just so people know it does work, the private library I mentioned above is in a member’s only club in Sydney. The library is open 24 hours a day and is unstaffed. Most of the members are men aged 50+ and are resistant to using computers. Previously the members wrote their membership number and the number of the book in a little booklet and this was used to ensure everyone returned their books. When they went to using a self-checkout system, there was quite a bit of resistance but, after a while, the members saw the benefits of simply scanning a barcode (much easier than writing it in all honesty). Although there are some members who would rather the good old days, in general takeup was good and it did wonders for advertising the library to the rest of the members (look at the wonderful things they are doing, come have a look at their resources, etc etc etc).

There, I think I’ve written enough for today. Comments are appreciated, like Zoya, I like hearing everyone’s opinion.

Non-Learning 2.0 posts!

8 thoughts on “Non-Learning 2.0 posts!

  • November 12, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Hey Christian

    Its about time you came back I’ve been waiting.

    Now about this self check out stuff, I think its a great thing for people that want to use it but why do we have to get all people to use it? Apart from the cost and I wonder about that, why else?

    Thsi is the first time I have seen this in a public library (Uni’s have it and its great!) so I guess I am a little resistant. As you said its not wanting to force people to do something that staff have done for them. Some points I would like to make:

    How do I explain how to use self checkout to a non speaking older person?
    How do I tell a mother who has kids running around the place who can’t even manage them to serve herself?(though this one I would like!)
    When we do things other than check out eg. Fines, reservations, problems and patrons wanting full issue lists, we are running from the self check to the desk taking the patron with us. very annoying for both staff and patrons. As i understand it there are no self checks that can do more than just check items out.

    I would agree with a unifrom because I would personally prefer one but I do not think this is good for customers as our image would not look as welcoming as being dressed like the public. I think it looks too separate and formal.

    Things I agree with
    giving borrowers the choice of not waiting in line.
    Offering borrowers privacy though this hasn’t stopped them borrowing lovely illustrated books on relations between the sexes.This I wish they would borrow at the self check outs.(I don’t want to know!)
    You’re right staff are not always approachable or working,
    As for the greeting model. if we do this then we would need to change our positon discriptions and be called maybe ‘Greeters’ or helpers.

    If staff are at the desk the public know waht we are there for, qw have a computer to help them which we usually need near usin order to answer the query.

    I know maybe we could carry a laptop around our necks this way we could call out “Help! anyone need help!” (just joking!)

    The persoanl touch has been the most important thing we have to offer (apart from information which people are finding themselves on the internet these days) so if we take this away we become another impersonal service, which is everywhere. Have you called a company lately how much do you enjoy talking to a recorded message!

    We need to be careful we do not become obsolete by not offering anything different to any other place, such as internet cafes.

    Thats all for now I’ll be back!

  • November 13, 2007 at 11:20 pm

    DIYs definitely have their place in libraries.
    Staff issuing items definitely have their place in libraries.
    I am in favour of a mixture of DIYs and staff. Kids love them too!
    I really like the person touch of talking/interacting with real people. I hate ringing institutions and getting their automated service. I would not like to see our library go down the full automation path – I don’t care how much money it saves (sometimes it shouldn’t be just about money). It is really great to see those customers who have a bit of a chat with their fave library staff.
    So DIYs – Yes.
    Staff assisted loans – Yes too.

  • November 14, 2007 at 8:06 am

    Good point Alpaca I woul like to see both too!

  • November 15, 2007 at 2:17 am

    Personally, I think both is the way to go. The problem with having both is that some people are scared to use the self-checkout and we need to figure out ways to encourage this. I like the idea of the people at the desk using the self-checkout to scan books for people. That way you still have the interaction but people see that we use the exact same system they do.


  • November 19, 2007 at 6:07 am

    You have mentioned some interesting points, Christian. It’s just that as soon as you mentioned having a “greeter” type person all I could think of was Captain Peacock in “Are you being served?”. Are you free, Mr West? A patron needs help with the Self-check out machine. Your point about not all staff being helpful or approachable is also true, we all have our Mrs Slocombes.

  • November 19, 2007 at 10:26 am

    I loved that show!

    Just one last thing about this topic(I’m bored with it now)I think having self check outs is great but maybe we need to allow a natural process to occur, no forcing or “encouraging” just asking and leaving it at that. Eventually I think most people will get used to the idea and will want to use it more and more. We can still be around the check out and not behind the desk. Would you believe it I’m getting used to this approach(not the pushing) I still refuse to make an old person do this, it goes against EVERTHING I believe in.

    Just let nature take its course. Again there is the bank analogy. Banks forced people to use machines and they are not very popular now.

    Libraries still have an image problem, I would hate for this to make it worse. NO more from me on this how about something else Christian.

    PS Thanks for your opinions Christian they have been interesting and informed, I wish others were brave enough to voice their opinions.

  • November 23, 2007 at 8:35 am

    I think many library people are very narrow sited when they think of the impact self-check technologies have on libraries.

    People need to get past the whole we are being replaced line of thought and start seeing it from the perspective that we are being freed up to perform new value added services that we have not had the time to perform in the past. With the contstant onslaught of new technologies contstantly bombarding us and our customers I think our role will become much more of a training and support role.

    I also think the percentage of customers resisting self-serve is slowly shrinking. I know that my local supermarket has self-service machines and if I am picking a couple of things up at the supermarket I prefer to go through the self-serve – as I feel more in control of the speed of my transaction – and lets face it, sometimes I am simply not in the mood to put on my fake smile and greet a checkout chick – I do enough fake smiling at work!

    Also Christian did bring up another good point – Sydenham has lots of books on “the naughty subject” help couples try some interesting positions and throw their backs! I know I would rather borrow those on self-serve (not confirming or denying I have!) rather than giving them to someone like Zoya who would probably look at me funny, and possibly screw her nose up at my Mr Burns style physic!

    Anyway, I think it is good people are having this dialogue as it will help us all move on and get our jobs done!

  • November 26, 2007 at 5:14 am

    Zoya: Yes banks force people to use machines. And today, how many people would want to go into a bank and withdraw money? Nope, we all use an ATM or an EFTPOS machine, much more convenient and no messy queues. That said, I still like to talk to someone if I need a problem fixed that I don’t think the machine understands.

    Andrew: There’s nothing wrong with a physique like Mr Burns (said as I flew my non existant muscles). I like the bit about value added services. Honestly, that’s what we’re trying to do, getting our staff to help people, not getting them to be glorified checkout chicks.

    History: I’ve posted about Mrs Slocombe (just because you mentioned her) 🙂


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