Just As I Thought

Do it yer own damn self

Back in 1981, I would go to the Pearl Avenue branch of the San Jose Public Library with my grandfather. We’d get arm loads of books, and then go to the checkout desk where a helpful person would check them out for us. There was rarely ever a line.
Today, the San Jose Public Library has gone the way of supermarkets — they’ve got those damned self-service checkout counters. And there’s always a line.
That’s because people can’t figure out how to use self-checkouts. At supermarkets, at Home Depot, at the library — the lines grow longer and longer, and the reduction in staff is offset by the need to have a computer troubleshooter standing there waiting for the next error.
The library system is much worse than those at a retail establishment. You must first choose a language — retail checkouts assume English if you just start scanning, but the library requires a strict set of steps.
Next, you put your card down in a spot under the laser scanner — but don’t cover up the little sensors about half an inch above that, because then it will think you’ve put a book down. It makes you start over.
Your card has to stay there the whole time, by the way. And if you have the little keychain card like I do, the weight of your keys will shift it and cover the book sensor, leaving you to… yes, start over.
Next, you must enter a PIN. So, not only are we able to track your reading habits, but they added a PIN to reassure you that no one else is checking out treasonous reading material on your card. I feel reassured.
My PIN didn’t work. I ended up going back to the information desk three times and she finally checked me out manually, which is what I wished they had done in the first place.
This was after I stood in line waiting for a mom to check out — I counted ’em — 20 paperback books for the kids running around beside her. She checked each one out so carefully, deliberately, and slowly, if it wasn’t for the 2nd machine (of only two) opening up, I might have been waiting for 20 minutes.
Here’s the thing: I know that companies make us do our own work so that they don’t have to hire cashiers. But at what cost? Pissed off customers, much higher equipment repair costs, long lines of clueless people who can’t program a VCR and yet are expected to scan and bag their own groceries…
oh, and if they’re saving money on making me do their work for them, why aren’t they selling things to me cheaper?


  • Oh, no, self-service checkout at the library? Library folk are one kind of customer-service people that I actually enjoy interacting with! Aside: At the Bethesda library, near my office, when I’ve checked out books, they usually stamp the due date, BUT sometimes they’ll point me to a table recently set up to the side where you stamp it yourself. What’s the point in that? Sigh.

  • I think you need to re-state that a litlle, as in- “My grandfather and I would check out library books, then he would keep them. A good portion of the San Jose Public Library resides deep in a basement, somewhere in Southern Illiniois. The resulting loss of revenue created a need to cut staffing.”
    But yeah, a U-Scan checkout in a library is just plain ol’ silly.

  • We have both at the Arlington main library, though one of the two self-serves has been down for weeks, supposedly with a virus!

    Our self-checkout is not as wonky as it used to be; I just used it the other day with no problems, but with ours there is no PIN, and you remove your card then scan the books. We also have like 6 lanes of manned check-out, 4 of which are used on Sunday when I volunteer. The place is always a mob with a line of usually 10-20 people. It’s crazy!

    We also have hundred of DVDs now, and the library staff bemoan the fact that the place is more like a ‘Blockbuster Video’ than a library.

    Also, Arlington’s policy is to destroy patron checkout records on a weekly basis (when books are returned of course.)

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