Rise of the library machines . . .

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From: Inga Joseph

Endcliffe Hall Avenue, S10

I was pleased to see that someone else feels as I do about self-service libraries (Letters, February 16). My comments on this modernisation are as follows:

1. The money spent on the machines would have been better spent on more books.

2. The scrap of paper with the books return date on is a pathetic substitute for the date stamp in the book and will not survive for 3 weeks.

3. Reserved books waiting to be collected are no longer handled by staff, one has to find them oneself on a lower shelf; stooping is not always easy for the elderly and nor is reading at that angle.

4. If the machines were outside the library, as cash machines are outside banks, one could at least return books at any time.

5. The library staff will now learn even less about books and their authors than previously, through lack of contact with them.

On my last - and it may well be my last - visit to my local library I asked one of the assistants standing around whether automation had caused many redundancies. Not at all, she replied, it has freed the staff up to perform a host of other tasks, which she recited to me. I think one of them had something to do with babies. If we can’t have an institution solely devoted to books then we are one step nearer their demise.

When I was a junior assistant in the Oxford Public Library during the war my main tasks were dusting and tidying books on the shelves - and buffering!

Buffering books involved hours spent in the basement of the library sandpapering the edges of the pages to make them white again.

But at least the basement was full of books, and as I buffered I read. I longed to be allowed to stamp books and chat to borrowers, but that was the prerogative of senior assistants. I never made it to the counter during the year I worked at the library.

To think I’ve missed out on it forever now!

From: Gordon Mason

Old Park Road, Sheffield S8

Steven Jones (Letters, February 16) perhaps protests too much about changes in the library service. He finds it hard to believe that “the despicable self-service machines can be a deliberate choice by the library”. Well, they won’t have been an accidental choice and I’m pretty sure the machines won’t have self-installed one dark and stormy night.

Which leaves their presence as a deliberate choice and part of a strategy to keep libraries open in these troubled times.

Personally, I’d rather have an open library with self-service machines than a closed library.

I do sympathise a little with his loss of an opportunity for discussion with the library staff.

But behind every such, quite oblivious, chatterer there were normally half a dozen people gritting their teeth and wishing they’d get on with it.

And it’s not so long ago that the silence he now complains about was obligatory in libraries; not all aspects of days gone by are worth sighing over, eh?

And finally, as the piece of paper from the not-so-despicable machines flies off into the wind, all that is necessary is to get a firm grip.