Warning – this may turn into a rant – I haven’t decided yet
Last week I was in Texas to do some training for work. I rented a car at the Dallas airport and went on my way. It’s 11pm and I’ve been in airports and planes since 2pm, so I’m a bit tired. I come upon a toll and reach for my wallet. Less than 300 feet from the toll I see the sign saying that the toll is $1. I check my change pocket and find that I don’t have enough so I pull out a bill and get into the line that says ‘change made.’ I sit there for 5 minutes and the line never moves. I try to see around all of the cars in front of me to see what the problem is and I see cars getting out of line and moving to the ‘exact change’ lane. I reach into my wallet and carry on and scrounge up $1 in change (part of which was 5 pennies). I look around to see if there are any signs that tell me that pennies are not accepted – nothing. So I follow suit and get out of line. I got into the ‘exact change’ line and put my money in – then see the sign that says ‘no pennies.’ In the end (after 10 minutes of this nonsense) I run the toll.
Now, what does that have to do with machines and humans? Well, the next morning I figured out what the problem was at the toll booth that night. I’m heading to the library in the morning and I hit another toll. This one wants $.40, but I have no more change at all, so I give the ‘change made’ line a shot again. I pulled up to the toll and found that there was no one there to take my dollar bill. Instead here was a change machine that looked like it had seen better days. I put my bill in and it spits it back out. I try again and it spits it out – I reach into my wallet and pull out another bill and try again. I do this with 3 different bills and for at least 5 minutes, all the while a line of cars forms behind me. Eventually the machine takes my bill and I get change to pay the toll.
I have traveled through many states, but have never had such an experience – there is always a human at the toll that gives you change (and a receipt for that matter).
How does this relate to libraries? Simple – the common fear or misconception is that libraries will be replaced by the Internet and books replaced with ebooks – but the fact of the matter is that machines cannot replace humans. The Internet cannot replace a librarian and while ebooks are pretty darn awesome – they will never replace having a real book in your hand.
One last example. I’m in the process of editing my book and I find myself wanting to print everything out and spread it out on a desk to organize it (something I’m trying not to do so I can save paper and ink). The fact of the matter is that while computers are awesome and central to nearly every job out there (they’re even used at the toll booth by the human) – they will not (at least not in my world) replace humans.