Tuesday 14 August 2012

Plenty of books but not much service

Barely one month since my visit to the optician for a new pair of specs (actually the same pair of specs, just different lenses) I was back in town for my biannual dental check-up.  I can hear many of you shuddering at the thought of the dentist but personally I have always been very lucky (touch wood) when it comes to the old gnashers (apart from my teenage years when I had half-a-dozen removed and a brace fitted - but didn't everyone?).  A quick polish and a scrub up and everything was tip-top for another 6 months, although the suggestion for minimising the need for such polishing - drink less tea - wasn't met with great enthusiasm I can tell you.  If the cost is just a twice-yearly polish and buff-up then I'll keep having my cuppa, thank you very much.

Nice noir-ish cover art too!
Then it was off to trawl the charity shops, which sadly this time did not yield as many goodies as before.  I did manage to pick up a brand new - and I mean brand new, as in only published 5 months ago - copy of an Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason mystery: The Case of the Crooked Candle.  I'm a big fan of the Perry Mason stories, as you probably know, not to mention the TV series starring the late Raymond Burr.  The few books I have are of varying ages; most are the early 2000s House of Stratus reprints (funnily enough all sourced from library sales) although I do have one 1942 fourth edition of The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe.  This latest title isn't, sadly, part of a new reprint of all of Gardner's work but rather one of a selection of "once famous but now neglected talents" of crime fiction including Margery Allingham, Francis Durbridge and D. M. Devine from publishers Arcturus.  Still, this was a title I hadn't got in my collection and at £1 for a book in the same condition as one that would retail for £6.99 I snapped it up.

It was at the library that I really hit the jackpot, however.  But before that... I'd gone in to return some books and pick up a reserved copy of R. J. Mitchell: Schooldays to Spitfire, a biography of the great aircraft designer written by his son Gordon Mitchell.  (After yet another viewing of The First of the Few starring Leslie Howard I felt moved to read more about the man, and at a cursory glance I can tell I shan't be disappointed with this book!).  It was at this point however that I encountered what I consider to be one of the banes of modern living.  The automated service.

Now, I know the thing exists because I walked past it on my way to the counter but - call me a Luddite - I hate automated system whatsits.  I use cash machines, but that's as far as I go (and if that makes me a hypocrite, so be it).  I don't know whether it's an extension of my - for want of a better word - old-fashionedness but I prefer to be served by a human being rather than a machine.  Don't even get me started on self-service tills!  The ones with two members of staff hovering nearby poised to offer assistance whenever the inevitable happens ("unexpected item in bagging area!") when they could be put to much better - and more efficient - use by, oh I don't know, sitting at a till scanning products through for the customer.  It's the same with this automated library system.  I remember when it was first introduced the mixture of pity and amusement I felt watching person after person struggling to work the touchscreen and the scanner, placing their books in front of this faceless box of bolts like worshippers offering up gifts to a mechanical god, before finally waiting for the librarian to come over and complete the process for them.  Upon which the machine spits out a receipt (which you have to keep with the book because it has the return date on it - apparently this is somehow better than a librarian with an ink date stamp) printed on paper the quality of which I'd be embarrassed to have in my bathroom.

Is this too much to ask?
So I ignore this waste of space and always head up to the counter (or a manned till, if I'm in a supermarket).  I hadn't been steered back to the self-checkout area for some time so when this happened:

Librarian:  "Can I show you how to use our automated check-in system?"

I remembered my previous responses to this question, drew myself up and said as politely but as firmly as possible:

Me: "I'd really rather you didn't, if it's all the same to you."

I have to admit that after that the atmosphere dropped by several degrees but really! what is it with this blasted self-service culture?  What annoys me even more is the fast-increasing view that by having these machines installed the library/supermarket/hospital is somehow doing us all a favour and that we should all be queueing up in excitement and appreciation, eager to use them and wondering how we ever got by just talking to another person.  Well they aren't and I'm not.  Honestly, they'll be expecting us to stack the shelves next.  Machines were envisioned to help (and maybe even replace) us in unpleasant and difficult tasks but instead they have been hijacked by penny-pinching corporations and used in unnecessary situations, forcing people into using them and putting customer relations (not to mention jobs) in jeopardy.  How soon before there is a whole generation who will never have experienced person-to-person interactions outside of their own home?

Anyway, rant over (and apologies, but this is something I feel very strongly about - I know that my readership includes one or two librarians so perhaps we shall also hear a contrasting view); let me show you all the books I got!  The same two tables and one shelf unit from my previous visit were still there but they had been replenished and joined by two boxes full of some really quite good (and in good condition) titles.  I ended up with an armful of five books.  Five!  For £2.20!  None older than ten years (and some again hardly withdrawn).  They are: Mr Bojangles: The Biography of Bill Robinson, A Land Girl's War by Joan Snelling (I must admit in my head I had Charly 'LandGirl's' voice - not that I've ever even heard it! - shouting "buy that!"), Elizabeth The Queen Mother by Hugo Vickers, Empire of Sand (a fictional story but using the character of T. E. Lawrence ["of Arabia"] and set in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War) and the biographical Joan Crawford: Not the Girl Next Door.

I'm really going to have to limit my book intake for the next few months now, I think.  Certainly I've got enough to keep me busy for a long time.  At the rate things are going my local library will soon be out of books and I'll have to open up my own library.  And I can assure you there wouldn't be a self-service machine in sight. 


  1. Our local library staff are lovely (apart from one who seems to hate people, books and enquiries and perhaps chose the wrong job!) but painfully slow. There may be a long line, during lunch breaks or before closing but they never 'quite' seem to find the right stamp or whatever. Sometimes this adds to their charm but I must admit for a quick transaction, I do use the automatic till!

  2. Oh good! You have a book problem too! I just had to clear off an entired carload of books off of our shelves to fit the books that we really, really like and also to fit a few more yet to be found, loved and added to the collection. :)

    I agree with the self automated systems. I have actually been ushered to them and have had employees ring up my purchases and let me know that I should use it next time I come in. I don't think they know their jobs are at stake. If they do, they are being forced my management to get people onto the automated systems. How sad. Farmers Markets are still friendly and that is a relief. :)

  3. Firstly I'm glad the dentist seem to be a painless experience, secondly I completely agree with you about automated systems. I tweeted something similar recently about a library visit. Last time, I tried to bypass the automated system and get a person top deal with my returns and new take outs. Sadly, the person walked me over to the machine and talked me through how to do it all! No, this isn't what I wanted! I felt really quite sad by the time I got out of there. I like liked the stamp that would leave a memory of a date forever.


Don't just sit there, type something! I enjoy reading all friendly and positive comments.


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