Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Machines are Not People

Not the name of a book; although thinking about it, I think it sounds like C might quite enjoy it!

Picture the scene. Friend and I and our four kids in the lovely library in a town near the village where we live. All of the kids have chosen some nice books, and there is a good selection for all of them (one 5, two 8 and one 10 year old). It's particularly satisfying to find a good selection of books suitable for C, who can now read pretty well, but doesn't quite have the stamina yet for a full length Beast Quest or Astrosaurs or similar. He tends to forget which character is which, and get frustrated with himself.

Anyway, I approach the self-checkout machines with loathing and caution. They are notoriously useless, and it is very rare that I am able to actually check books out without it failing to scan some of them, and me having to join the very long queue at the desk, full of people also checking out books which have failed to scan. So, essentially a queue like there always used to be before the machines, which is now longer with extra added whinging toddlers who want to either go to the library's brilliant cafe, or go and play on the amazing park just outside (it even has a zipwire - oh yes). The machines cost time and put trained librarians out of a job. I am tempted to launch a Luddite campaign against them, but fear this might lead to me being permanently banned from the library.

Thing is, even if the machines worked, I'd still hate them. Libraries are not just places for people to go in, scan books in a machine, choose more books, scan those books into a machine, and leave again. They are one of the precious few community hubs we have left which is open access to all. They are often a refuge for the disenfranchised, particularly the elderly. Ten years ago an elderly person or lonely new mum could go the to local shop, the post office and the library, and be assured of some human contact. Now there are self checkouts in the shop and the library, and the post office is likely to be closed. It's just so depressing.

On a happier note, one of the books C chose was a Haynes Manual for Wallace and Gromit's Cracking Contraptions. He spent a long time looking at it in bed tonight and has asked for it for his birthday. Bless him I am sure he can only read about half of the words, but since he was a small toddler, C has loved looking at diagram-y type books. He often used to sit cross-legged by the book shelves, tracing particularly exciting pictures with his fingers.

This morning on the bus, he read the new bus timetable, as it was the only available reading material. I only learnt to passed my driving test a year ago, so A and C were bus veterans from a very early age. C used to have loads of different Buggy Buddies books. A did too, but she would pretty much ignore them in favour of flirting with strangers and pointing out of the window. I was very grateful for his love of books as bus journeys with toddlers are a test of anyone's patience. However, now that the kids are older, and bus journeys are optional rather than necessary for me, I permitted myself yet another moment of nostalgia this morning for a bygone age, when I would get on the bus juggling toddler, baby, double buggy, nappy bag and assorted accoutrements and bus money. It isn't actually on my CV that I used to regularly get the bus with two very small children, but it really should be. The people-management and multi-tasking skills required should not be underestimated. Even with a Buggy Buddy or two in the armoury.

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