Friday, September 19, 2008

Simple Tech

I recently heard from an acquaintance about an issue at a certain library (which shall remain nameless here) that sounded rather archaic for this day and age. It seems that there was a problem with lost and misplaced books at this library and the management decided to try to track it. They decided that all their re-shelvers would carry around a chart with them, and as they perform their duties, they would record the call-numbers of the books, their names, the date, and the time. This method would effectively trace the last person to shelve a book, so if a book ever went missing or turned up in the wrong location, management would know who re-shelved the book last. While there are other ways to lose a book in the library, if it turned out one person had handled a substantially high percentage of the misplaced books, management would be able to determine that at least part of the problem rested on certain employees in the institution. They could then use that information to identify who needs to be retrained or watched more closely. Incorporating this form of accountability into the re-shelving process could help management at least reduce in some part the frequency in which books go misplaced or incorrectly re-shelved.
As it turns out, the re-shelvers at this institution had a problem with this new policy. They didn’t mind the newly introduced accountability, though. They felt more annoyance towards the fact that this new policy made them terribly inefficient at their jobs. It now took them at least twice as much time to re-shelve a given number of books, because each time they re-shelved a book, they had to manually record the call-number, their name, the date, and the time. While the information derived from this new policy could be put to good use, the policy itself greatly increased the amount of time to perform a certain job, which made the re-shelving employees unhappy.
One of the stated benefits of technology is that it makes our lives easier and makes us more efficient at what we do. It seems to me like a very simple task to utilize some rather simple (for this day and age) technology to improve this particular policy. All you would need is a few hand held scanners that the re-shelvers could carry around with them as they re-shelved books. The re-shelvers would be givin log-in names and passwords so they could log onto the scanners, which would be wirelessly connected to server and central database, as a particular user. Each time they re-shelved a book, all they would have to do is scan the already existing bar code. This one quick scan would record the call number of the book, the re-shelvers log-in name/real name, the date, and the time, and the scanner could then send the information back to be stored in the central “Re-shelving” database. This is a fairly simple use of a database and would not take long to set up. This technology would record all the necessary information without increasing the amount of time it took to re-shelve books. It allows the library to increase the amount of accountability while maintaining the efficiency of its employees. While the scanners might represent a moderate initial expense, the long term savings on labor costs would quickly repay that investment. These scanners could also be used to quickly record additional information, thereby only increasing their value to the company. However, if the re-shelvers in the library are interns and don’t get paid, it might make it difficult to argue that buying the equipment and technology is going to save the library money.

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