The rhetoric is that we are in an age of ever increasing technological improvement. And there is a fair case to be made for it. The great majority of the processes of the library I work at have only been improved by the digital age and by technical and mechanical developments. Requesting items, managing check outs, processing returns have all been made wildly better. Even our materials are better from technology; higher quality, more ubiquitous pictures in books, easier to get and watch movies, items one can check out from the library without even going to the library.
Sometimes I sure wouldn’t like to go to the library too!
But despite this tidal wave of advancement, not everything has improved. And for a case in point I present our intercom system.
When I started it was beautiful. There was, at the circulation desk, sitting on the counter, a big, sturdy microphone. It had a base it sat on so you could lean down and talk into it if you wanted, but mostly one would pick it up to use it. There was a large button on it, like a giant space bar at the bottom. When it was depressed the mike was on. That was it. It was clean, analog, easy to use, and sounded quite good. We liked to call people back to the desk with it to tell them they had returned their VHS without a video cassette inside. It saved a ton of work to catch them while they were still in the library. We didn’t call people back for not rewinding their videocassettes. We had bigger fish to fry.
Eventually, as we updated our library and remodeled it, our intercom got woven into our phone system. Hit #150, wait a second or two, then talk. It was okay. We started doing our closing announcements through this system and that’s the biggest part of what we used it for. Sometimes it would activate by accident and we could hear faintly the interactions at the Reference desk for awhile until someone alerted them. It also went through periods where it produced a low, steady, mysterious static when not in use. That was pretty annoying.
Finally, recently, we downgraded all the way to our new phones. One now dials a connecting number as before. After this the phone weirdly rings until it connects, like the intercom system is hooked in through a switchboard operator who waits for our calls, but is busy, and so takes a while to pick up and connect us. When it does connect it makes a truly gigantic and horrible blast of feedback noise, both in the users’ ear and throughout the whole of the library. It is a massive SCREECH that rivets everyone’s attention. At that point one is free to deliver one’s message, usually involving an apology for the noise.
The other night it fell to me to do the closing announcements, something I do as experimentally as possible in faint hopes I won’t be asked again. It’s okay, but I already have too many creative outlets as it is. There are, by tradition five closing announcements; at 20 minutes before, 15, 10, three, and to say that we are closed.
For the first announcement I apologized for the horrible SCREEEECCHH!, and I informed the public that we are all helpless before it. But having used that approach up, at the second announcement I went with something more like “That gorgeous chime you just heard is the gentle herald of the fact that in 15 minutes the library closes”. It was variations of that then as we worked our way towards closing: “You probably didn’t hear that faint, dulcet tone of our intercom system, but…”. When I finally got to the “Library is Closed” announcement I really didn’t even need to make it. Everyone was already gone.
Actually, maybe our new intercom system works better than I thought.