On Sunday Kelly and I went over to the new Eden Prairie / Hennepin County Public Library. The library had been built in the old Lunds supermarket. I had watched them building it out over the past two years or so with great anticipation. I had been in the old library located just down the road a few times many years ago - in fact, I’d guess that it would have been the last library I had set foot in, 8 years ago.
We walked inside and I was immediately struck by the architecture. This didn’t look anything like the supermarket which had been here before. The inside was completely renovated; skylights had been added all over the place, making everything nice and bright.
Then I started looking around for a librarian in order to get my library card. Walked right up to the front desk, got my card in less time than it took Kelly to use the restroom. Upon her return we set ourselves adrift in the sea of books.
The second big thing I noticed was all the computers. Realize, the last time I had been in a library was 8 years ago, even longer if you only consider regular visits. (Before you assume I’m some kind of bibliophobe, I have kept up the regular visits to my favorite bookseller, Borders, so I still consider myself well-read!) The amount of change which has gone on was astounding! Everywhere I looked I saw computers. Certainly I remember the move from the actual card catalog to the terminals we had right around the time I entered high school. But here were over 100 computers, all setup with not only “card catalog” access but full Internet access as well. I use “card catalog” loosely because I’m not sure you could call it that anymore - the computers basically just access the same website you can from home.
The benefits are extraordinary. Not only can I see instantly on a computer screen which books match my criteria, but I can scan the entire Hennepin County Library system at the same time. From there I can see which physical libraries have the book on the shelf or put a hold on the book (either the specific copy or any copy of it in the system) which will be delivered to my local library in a few days for pickup. The Internet access helps immensely, too. Instead of having to rack my brain trying to remember that book I put on my Amazon wishlist, or read about on some blog, I can instead bring up another window, visit the Internet site, get the author’s name and search the library system immediately.
The next thing which struck me was the number of librarians. Four by my count. A few helpers moving amongst the shelves putting books back, but four actual sitting-at-a-desk-waiting-to-help-you librarians. One might think this number is low, but in actuality I don’t think it is at all. Normal library patron tasks (looking up books, locating, reserving, and checking out) are all automated - now they are simply there to be asked the questions they would probably prefer to receive. I walked up to one, looking for the Dewey Decimal number for “problem solving” books. He began to explain to me how to search on the web interface, but when I explained I had searched and got a bunch of different numbers he was able to clarify which one was the best one to browse in. He walked me right over to the section and even offered up a suggestion from the available books before he walked back to his desk.
When the announcement of the closing of the library in 15 minutes over the PA, Kelly and I found each other and walked up to the checkout. No lines, no busy library patrons running around at the last minute trying to get that one last book. Instead we found ourselves at a wonderful little machine. Slide in your library card, scan each book, remove the library card and it prints out a receipt with the due dates for each item listed.
All in all, it was a great experience. Indeed, I just got an email today letting me know that three books which I had put holds on were waiting to be picked up at the local library. (They were located at a different library in the system when I looked them up on Sunday) Even picking up a reserved book is automated - simply walk in the library, goto the designated “reserve” section, pick up the books from the shelf, and check them out at the automated booth!
I’m excited about going to the library again! *snickers*
Which books did I pick up, you might ask?
Besides the three books which are waiting for pickup:
- Automated Alice by Jeff Noon
- Pollen by Jeff Noon
- Passage by Connie Willis
I picked up:
- A New Kind Of Science by Stephen Wolfram
- The Riemann Hypothesis: The Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics by Karl Sabbagh
- Math Mind Games by Heinrich Hemme