Self-circulation and secret numbers

Yes! A library-related post!

Well, sort of.

Unshelved has an arc this week on self-checkout. Yesterday’s strip (which I just saw today) has Dewey demonstrating the self-check procedure.

  • First scan your bar code.
  • Then enter your secret number
  • Now scan the barcode on the front of the book

I won’t give away the punch line. I assume most of you read Unshelved anyway (right?). Some of us even own some of the collections (I have the first two, but may add later ones later, once sales of Public Library Blogs: 252 Examples go skyrocketing somewhere well beyond the current three dozen mark).

Oh, and I’m also back to being a regular user of my own public library. Which is on its second generation of self-circ machines. Both the first and second generation of those machines, at least as implemented at MVPL, make me wonder about that second bullet. And, for that matter, about how much difference there may be among these systems.

Here’s what I find and like about how they’re implemented at MVPL:

  • A video screen walks you through the process and makes it almost foolproof–starting from the point of orienting your library card correctly to put it in the holder. The old machine–as I remember it–had you put the card on the flatbed and then put books on top of it. The new one has you put the card in a separate holder; once you remove the card, you’re done and get a printed receipt.
  • Secret numbers? I don’t got to show you any stinkin’ secret number! Which is to say, there’s no such requirement at my library–and, as far as I remember (last time I was in was two weeks ago), there’s no keypad anyway.
  • MVPL puts the barcodes on the backs of the books and other materials. That may not be ideal, since some patrons probably get confused by the EAN barcodes.
  • The thermal-printed receipt identifies each book or other item by title/author, item ID, and shows the due date for each item. It also has the current date and time, the library name (technically, “City of Mountain View Public Library”) and operating hours (which I regard as quite good: 10-9 M-Thu, 10-6 Fri-Sat, 1-5 Sun). And it shows “Amount owed” if any. What it does not show: Anything that would identify me as the borrower, if I drop the receipt somewhere or leave it as a bookmark when I return the books. Three cheers for that configuration. (I seem to remember that the first-generation receipts did show either my name or my library card #, but I may be mistaken.)
  • The two machines work–pretty consistently, fairly fast, pretty well. (MVPL serves 72,000 people and has excellent circ stats. I guess two machines are enough.)

Oh, and two other things I really like, one of which is only indirectly related to self-circ:

  • Self-circ is optional. The circulation counter is staffed and the people are happy to help you. If you get frustrated, you just walk over to the counter and let them handle it.
  • A ready reference/front-line help desk, very informal and non-imposing, is near both the self-circ counter and the circulation counter, with someone ready to provide on-the-spot help to people at the most likely spot. This is only a guess, but I’m guessing the person at the front-line desk would offer to help if somebody was obviously having trouble with self-circ.

Secret numbers? Really? I guess I can see the reasoning…after all, somebody could steal my library card and check out hundreds of books. On the other hand, would they ask for photo ID at a manual circ desk? Probably not.

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