Library disasters

Posted by on August 31, 2015 in Blog, Living today | 0 comments

Elliott Brown/Statue of Tony Hancock in Old Square, Birmingham/Flickr

Elliott Brown/Statue of Tony Hancock in Old Square, Birmingham/Flickr

When did libraries get so complicated? In days of yesteryear you rocked up, scoured the shelves for a good read, got the book stamped and disappeared.

Now, in our library at least, you return the books yourself by means of an electronic scanner and are then told where to leave them: left postbox if reserved, right shelf if not. They don’t yet ask you to restock the shelves but it’s probably just a matter of time.

The problems start, though, if the book doesn’t register when you want to borrow it. The librarians look at you as though it’s all your fault and then grudgingly scan it at the desk (the old fashioned method). Or else they tell you it has been reserved, and shouldn’t be out on the shelf.

Given the vagaries of the system, I now ask for a printed receipt from the scanning machine whenever I borrow or return books, having been bitten once too often. I’ve been known to receive a missive telling me a book is long overdue when I actually returned it in good time.

The staff are only too aware of what happens, and wipe the black mark from my records when presented with evidence – but I am not sure what happens to those who can’t. And now I am about to fall on the wrong side of the law.

Travelling on a bus at 7 am this morning I left my library book on it. This is dire for a number of reasons: I had got to the final chapter and it was a cliffhanger, it’s due back because someone has reserved it and no one appears to have handed it in.

Not knowing the ending is haunting me. I feel a bit like Tony Hancock, in The Missing Page episode of Hancock’s Half Hour. For those without a working knowledge of the series, it’s the one where he finally gets Lady Don’t Fall Backwards by Darcy Sarto from the public library, but is mortified to find the last page torn out. He and his partner in crime, Sid James, try to resolve the whodunit (supposedly revealed on the final page) by tracking down previous borrowers and even visiting the author’s house.

As for my faux pas, I’ve filled in TfL’s online lost property form but perhaps I shall just have to go cap in hand to the library and throw myself on their mercy. Or maybe I should just buy another copy and satisfy my curiosity, and then offer it as a replacement – or perhaps I will just wait another couple of days and keep my fingers crossed.

Forgive the moan, because I know I’m actually very lucky. We have a library which is constantly restocked with new books. It’s bright and airy (albeit bits of it are falling down). It allows free online access, offers interesting talks and the storytelling for kids sounds a hoot (and is packed out whenever my visit coincides).

So having started disgruntled, maybe a list of library positives is called for. Some pluses are:

1. Borrowing books means you don’t need more bookshelves.
2. A library visit introduces you to authors you didn’t even know existed.
3. There is something more satisfying about getting a book out than downloading one on to your Kindle.
4. Taking a book out still means the author gets a few pence.
5. Librarians need to be a protected species, particularly those at the British Library, my saviours on more than one occasion.
6. Libraries reserve books for free.
7. Use it or lose it. I know which one I’d prefer!

Postcript: The library have given me another week, told me to badger Tfl, and that failure to return it will cost me a tenner. Sigh…And now the library’s computer system has gone down and I can’t pay for it anyway for a fortnight until it’s repaired.

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