Friday, August 11, 2006

Fix-it Fridays: A DVD in the Hand or I can't do it myself

This installment of Fix-it Fridays will focus on our problems regarding our self-check machine and our DVD collection.

As I have stated before, we are a small semi-rural library serving an ever growing population. This population has relied on agriculture for most of its existence and has only recently begun to get manufacturing jobs, retail, and other amenities that you would find in a larger community in the Phoenix area. As a result, we have to be careful in what types of technology we push on them.

I mentioned in last week's post about the dangers of putting everything on line without providing access to those materials. In a semi-rural community, the knowledge and availability of technology is very scarce. When we first purchased DVDs, we went very slowly since we figured they would not handle the technology or have access to it. Instead, we went to our local video stores and found that they had ditched almost all of their videotapes overnight and went almost entirely with DVDs. DVD players for sale popped up everywhere, some as cheap as $50. The technology, knowledge, and materials were all present. So here we were a library full of videocassettes in a world that was DVDs. After that, we made an assumption that the public would acquire the technology and knowledge they needed with our technology.

However, we encountered a problem during our Master Plan process. Some community members thought we were going to fast with technology particularly with our materials. We had purchased some on line databases in lieu of additional expensive reference resources. We eventually did get heavy use on the databases, but we took a lot of flak for getting rid of some of the materials. I remember when one of our pages was pulling an encyclopedia set getting grilled as to why we were getting rid of these materials. New technology and change is not always welcome. It becomes imperative that a library knows how to implement change and train patrons on how to use it. At this point, it was hard to tell at what technologies our patrons would learn, and which ones they would resist. So when the Friends of the Library proposed purchasing a $20,000 self-check machine, I was very happy to get the extra help, but I was concerned this system cause more problems than it solved.

After examining all problems that could exist with the self-check machine we took action. All of our books have the barcode in different places so we would have to re-barcode all of the books so that the patrons could find it in the same place (as well as speed up check-out for circulation). When we first rolled out the self-check, no one knew how to check out the book. Most people tried doing it on the ISBN since they could not find the library's barcode. We did provide instruction on how to use it, and the computer screen shows exactly how to do each step, but we do have a population that has trouble reading signs. This is evident by the amount of people who still walk out of the library where the emergency exit is. Even though the sign is big and red and at eye level, they still don't see. Needless to say, we ended up spending a lot of time educating users how to use the machine.

This summer, we held a big promotion and giveaways along with staff available to assist with the machine. Usage picked up; however, we discovered a new problem with our system. When we began purchasing DVDs we put security on the discs. We found that the security did not prevent patrons from walking out with DVDs, did not prevent them from jimmying open cases, or set off the security alarms. As a result, we took all the DVDs out of the cases and placed them in boxes with a corresponding number behind the desk. So a patron would pick up the empty case, bring it to the desk, and get the disk upon check-out. A great system and it was foolproof. A patron could not possibly steal a disc. Then when we received our self-check and ran our big promotion, we had a problem; we could not check-out DVDs.

This summer, we had a huge increase in circulation, more people than ever were using the self-check; we had an automated time management system for our public access computers and were handling the load of 20% more customers. However, we quickly found out that people stopped using the self-check because they could not check-out DVDs because it required a staff member to get it for them and desensitize it. We just have a primitive old block at our front desks and can’t afford a check-out or desensitizing machine, so all AV have to be handed around the other side of the desk, much like you would see in a video store. DVD circulation went through the roof with twice as much check-out as the same time last year. This ended up being a bad thing because they could not use the self-check. So we have all these systems to assist with the lack of staff, a self-check machine, automated telephony to notify patrons of holds and overdue items, a time management machine for our public access computers, but patrons can’t check out the most popular items in the collection themselves. In order to get the DVD problem solved we have to either implement a fool-proof security system, which may end up being RFID to the tune of $60,000, pay for new machines that can desensitize AV at the circulation desk to the tune of $24,000, or continue to have staff check out the DVDs and push the patron over to the self check for their other items.

I will say, the lesson that was learned about technology is that if it is candy, patrons will learn, if it is something they have to learn to get what they want, it will be proportionate to the difficulty in getting it to the desire of wanting it. If you have something they really want, they will learn the technology (like with our time management, quick learners to get on a computer), if you have something you want them to learn to make it easier for staff and not the patron, then they won’t want to use it.

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