Franke: Library Modernization
by Mark Franke
I have an obsession, no doubt an unhealthy one since it controls me and not I it. I love to read . . . all the time.
It is so bad that I never go anywhere without reading material just in case I have to wait for a few minutes. I actually keep a log of books I have read but I still find myself rereading something I read several years back . . . and not realizing it until I am halfway through the book. I listen to audio books whenever I am driving, mowing, walking (my concession to that nagging nurse from my Medicare insurance carrier) or doing most anything away from polite society. And don’t ask my wife about the overstuffed bookshelves in my study.
This is not a confessional. I bring this up because of the strange and unwelcome things happening at my local public library.
I read about 200 books per year, most coming from library checkout. If libraries gave frequent flyer miles, I would be in the million miles club and entitled to free sandwiches and cocktails every time I dropped in.
Needless to say, I love my local county library, or at least try to. But they are making it difficult.
The first warning sign occurred several years back when they, and I have no idea who they are, decided to restrict holds to a limit of five books. A patron, as we hoi polloi are called at libraries everywhere, can still check out somewhere between 26 books, my personal maximum, and some unlimited number known only to the cognoscenti who work there.
So why the limit? I don’t know but I heard from what I am sure is a reliable source that it was to put a screeching halt to the many homeschoolers in my county who were reserving too many books.
Huh? One would think that a public library would assign a crack team of librarians to help homeschool parents obtain the reference materials necessary to educate their children. Not in my county, apparently.
I’m not a homeschooler, being in an age category politely called senior citizen, but this changed my reading habits for the worse. Instead of putting a long list of books on hold to be sent to my local branch (remember that I read about four books a week), I now must drive around the county to the appropriate branch to get what I want. Fortunately, I am now retired and no longer a productive contributor to the economy so I have plenty of time to do this, if not necessarily the gas money needed.
The next gut punch to old-timers such as me who like to hold real flesh-and-blood books was the library management’s decision to cull the physical herd, so to speak, in favor of digital content. They began purging printed books from the collection, although they denied doing this according to a local newspaper report. But then they promised to stop doing it even though they weren’t really doing it. Is Rod Serling our library director?
The latest modernization was to put in new software to run their catalog and patron accounts. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why software needs to be upgraded regularly in our brave new world. But one week into its release, I think Titanic would be an appropriate metaphor from my perch here in geezerdom.
It took me three days to figure out how to get a new account established, even though I’ve had one for seemingly centuries. I think, and I can’t be sure about this, I had to set my password before the system would let me pick my username. Everything seems to take more keystrokes to accomplish and several features I found useful are missing. I know I’m not Mr. Technology, but still . . .
If that weren’t bad enough, the mobile app didn’t come up with the main system for a handful of days and that’s where I keep my barcode, account info and lists of future books to request. Fortunately I found my plastic library card amidst a bunch of unused credit cards so I could conduct business in person.
I received several advance emails about the upgrade so I shouldn’t have been surprised. If I read these correctly, the purpose of the whole thing was to improve privacy of our data. Now I have to admit that I haven’t lost much sleep worrying about Al Qaeda terrorists or Russian mobsters downloading my checkout list. I’ll gladly take simple and forego NSA grade security. At least I’ve learned to love my Kindle and I now spend more time on the Amazon book website than the library’s.
Maybe I have become the quintessential curmudgeon but I don’t know why it seems that every so called improvement makes my life more difficult. I guess I better get used to being dragged onward, kicking and screaming.
Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar and of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.