God bless the library

I hit pay dirt at the library on Sunday. Earlier in the year I’d been looking for a book… not a book essential to my work or way of life, but a book I was reasonably keen to borrow and read. It was out and overdue. So I bided my time, I waited for it to be returned, keeping an eye on its status via the library’s catalogue on the Web.

The very fact that I can check my local library catalogue on the Web is a marvellous thing. Scott Adams once wrote a highly amusing essay arguing that life won’t be like Star Trek… in a lot of ways he’s right, but I think in its own way, the Web fulfils just a little bit of the future as predicted by Star Trek and countless other sci-fi shows. Do you remember when someone would hook into the databases of a far away computer for information? Most people probably never thought very much about it, but at the time this was the stuff of fantasy.

Well, now you can do it. Information from all over the world is accessible to anybody anytime through the web. And when I say anyone, I mean anyone with the requisite software and network connection, obviously – – there’s parts of the world where people barely have enough food to get through the day without starving to death, let alone any sort of computer equipment. And when I say anytime, I mean anytime that your computer, your network connection, the computer you’re trying to reach, and all the computers and network connections in between the two of you, are working perfectly.

So, yes, thanks to the wired people at Glen Eira Council, I kept an eye on the book from their catalogue on the web. And eventually the book was returned. I strolled into Caulfield Library a few days later to look for it and… couldn’t find it. It wasn’t there. The catalogue said it was, but it wasn’t. A librarian helped me look, and couldn’t find it either. He said it had probably been mis-filed, and marked it as lost in the catalogue. Damn.

Months passed, and I happened to be back in the library last Sunday. I idly wandered to the shelf where the missing book should have been located. And there is was. I snatched it, dug through my wallet for my library card and went to borrow it.

The librarian wrestled with his computer, but couldn’t find it in the catalogue. It had vanished. He called over a colleague, and they studied the screen intently. He asked if he should enter it back into the system. The colleague picked up the book and inspected its aging spine. Then, perhaps with paperwork-minimisation in mind, she turned to me and said “would you like to buy it for a dollar?”

I’d been waiting months for this book. It would have cost me $2 to reserve it. “Yes!” I replied.

And the deal was done. They had to find a “Withdrawn from Glen Eira Library Service” stamp, but since it was already missing from the catalogue, that’s all they had to do, apart from take my dollar and rub it on the alarm neutralising magnetic thingy. So the book is mine. Woo hoo!

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