The head librarian of our local branch has become a good friend. The "Hawaii State Librarian of the Year", she does a tough job with an insufficient budget and a staff of people who are trained by her branch and then sent to other libraries. Unfortunately I'm not sure that I want to jeopardize our friendship by telling her about this conversation I had with her staff:
Me: "Can you take a look at this book on my request list? It's been #1 for about three months now and it hasn't come in yet."
Librarian #1: "Well, someone must still have it out then."
Me: "I understand what you're saying, but it's been too long for that. They could have waited a couple weeks to pick it up, then had it for three weeks, then renewed it for three weeks-- that's only eight weeks and I've waited longer than that."
L1: "Well, you have to wait at least two months."
Me: "Yup, it's been almost three months now."
L1: "Then it must be in transit here."
Me: "I think the computer would show that. Could you take a look?"
L1: (Sigh.) "OK. Oh, look, it's lost."
Me: "But it's right there on your screen. How can it be lost?"
L1: "I mean it's been reported as lost. Will there be anything else today?"
Me: "Well, yeah, let's find it. I want to read the book."
L1: "I'm sorry, you have to request it."
Me: "Yup, it says right there on your screen that I did that six months ago. So when can I expect to get the book?"
L1: "No, you have to request that we buy a book to replace the one that was lost."
Me: "When the book was reported as lost, didn't you make the person who lost it buy a new book?"
L1: "When it says 'lost', that means the person who lost it has already paid their fine and their record has been cleared. The book just hasn't been replaced."
Me: "Well, when will it be replaced?" (People are starting to stare but I'm thinking to myself: "Folks, I'm retired now and I can do this all day!")
L1: "It won't. You have to order it."
Me: "So, lemme get this straight. The book is lost but it's been paid for, and although I've requested the book it won't be 'found' until I order it instead of just requesting it? Is that right?"
L1: "That's right! Who's next please?"
Me: "Wait a minute, let's order the book."
L1: "I'm sorry, I can't do that here. You have to see the Reference Librarian."
Me: "Well, before I get into that line, can you tell me what they'll do over there that can't be done at this computer?"
L1: "Oh, I can order the book, but all orders have to be initiated by the reference librarian. I can only do book orders when I'm at that desk."
Me: "OK, I'll wait right here while you go over to that desk and initiate the order."
L1: "No, sir, I can't do that. But here's a printout of the screen that you can take over to the reference librarian."
Me: "So, you can't order the book from this computer right here? Never mind."
A few minutes later:
Reference librarian: "This gentleman is first, but do you have a short question?"
RL: "Ha-ha, I'll be with you in a few minutes."
(A few minutes later I explain the problem and hand over the printout.)
RL: "Oh, I see, you need to order a book."
Me: "Well, I'd prefer that you order it, since I requested it and it was lost by another borrower."
RL: "OK sir, I need you to fill out this form with the information that's on this piece of paper."
Me: "Can you order the book from your computer?"
RL: "No, sir, our technician does that from the information on the form you're going to fill out."
Me: "Lemme get this straight. The book I reserved on the computer system is lost and it won't be found unless it's ordered, so the first librarian printed out the information for me, which you want me to fill out on a second form, so that someone else can enter it into a second computer to order the book. Is that right?"
RL: "Yes, sir."
Me: "Can the first computer pass the information to the second computer?"
RL: (Here I'm going to summarize a long technical description of library computer systems
Me: "Well, all I want to do is borrow a book that the library used to have in the system and now it can't be found. Yet you want me to do all the extra paperwork to get the book that the library should already have ordered to fill my reservation request, and the only reason I'm being told to do this work is because I asked why the computer system isn't giving me the book I ordered that the library should have in the system or be re-ordering after it's lost. Is that right?"
RL: "Sir, how about you just write your card number on this form and I'll staple it to your paper?"
I'm not going to go into the gory details of "What happens next?", "How long will it take?" and "When will I be notified that the book is here?" Let's just say that we were more or less polite yet heartily tired of each other by the time we were finished.
Yeah, I know-- it'll probably be easier to buy the damn book, read it, and donate it to the library. However I'm afraid that I'll crash their computer system!
Hmmm... maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.
And now that I see what I've typed, it's probably better to e-mail it to her so that she can decide for herself what to do with it. I guess that if I were in her shoes I'd want to get the same information.
Both of the librarians are younger than me. I wonder if one of them will be a state librarian of the year someday...