October 21st, 2013

dark and stormy, reading

One month later

Madison's new Central Library has been open one month today, and it's still pretty great. That's not to say there's no room for improvement though ...

No book return at main entrance. Technically, there is a book return slot outside the main entrance, but it's sealed shut, apparently because they've yet to figure out a way to keep the books and other items returned through that slot from being damaged when they drop from the slot onto the concrete floor. (This is the explanation I was given by the librarian I asked about it.) One would think they could just do whatever they did to prevent that from happening when books are returned through the slot outside the side entrance, or the one in the side entrance foyer, but perhaps there's some complicating factor that isn't evident to the untrained eye.

But people entering the main door can just return their books inside, right? Yes, but even that's more complicated than it needs to be. There's no book return slot at the main desk either. There's a return cart at the desk, and if you see the small sign identifying it as such or know it's there, you can just drop your returned items on the cart, but if you're not in the know, you have to wait in line to hand your returns to a librarian, or leave them on the counter and hope the librarian figures out they need to be checked in. Or you could go in the side entrance, I guess.

Public computers hard to find. If you're looking for a specific computer, that is. The identification numbers on the computer carrels are pale green on a metallic silver background. They can barely be seen at all from a distance, and even when you're standing right next to them they're hard to read. Supposedly they're going to be replaced, but they told me that a month ago.

Motion-activated lights weirdly ineffective. The lights in the computer carrels are motion-activated, but I've yet to discover what motion activates them. Sometimes they come on as you walk past; sometimes when you sit down; sometimes when you drop your bag on the table top; and sometimes not at all. And once they turn themselves off, there doesn't seem to be anyway to get them to turn back. The librarians are no help.

Public computer policy unnecessarily restrictive. Let's say I'm using a computer at the library, as I do sometimes, and I'm looking at Facebook in Firefox, and I see a link to an article I want to read later. So I click the link while holding down the tab key to open it in a new tab ... and the browser immediately switches to that new tab. But if I wanted to look at it right away, I wouldn't have used Ctrl-click. There's a setting in Firefox to prevent it from immediately switching to a new tab, but that option is disabled. Boo!

Also, you can't right-click in Windows Explorer, nor can you activate the Folders pane or change the default file view. So if I want to do something as simple as transfer a file from the Desktop to a flash drive, I can't just use the Send To... option in the context menu, and drag it to the appropriate location in the Folder pane; I have to open up two Explorer windows to drag-and-drop, or use cut-and-paste if I want to just stick to one Explorer window. Deactivating these features doesn't add any significant level of security to the computer, and it aggravates the users who know what they're doing. In fairness to the Madison Public Library, this isn't their fault; the South Central Library System configured the computers, not MPL. Regardless, as the big dog of the SCLS, they should be using their leverage to force the SCLS to loosen the unnecessary restrictions.

"Available" items unavailable. All items are checked in and placed on carts for shelving in one centralized location. This makes for a more efficient operation, to be sure, but it makes for more aggravation for the patrons, because as soon as a book is checked in, its status in the catalog switches to Available. Except it's not available ... it's in the sorting area, maybe on a cart waiting to be shelved, maybe waiting to be sorted onto a shelving cart, but either way not available. Twice in the last month, a DVD I've wanted has been listed in the system as available but has in fact been unavailable to me. And because the system thinks the item is available, I'm not able to to place a hold on it while I'm in the library. They really need to add an intermediary status to the catalog: Checked out, Checked in, or On Shelf. Almost every item in the library now has a RFID tag, so I think it'd be reasonably easy to switch the status of an entire cart to On Shelf as it leaves the sorting area.

I think that's all. Other than those little things, I'm very pleased with the new library, especially the RFID checkout. You just plop your whole stack of items on the self-checkout machine, and the sensor reads the RFID tags and checks the book out without having to lift another finger. Pretty slick!