Tuesday, July 17, 2007


We have a policy at our library that a patron cannot check out a book (or anything else) without their card - no exceptions, ever. No, we will not look up your card. No ,we will not do it just this one time. NO! The circ people adhere to this policy like it's the Holy Grail. Naturally, I have an opinion on this policy, and even suggestions about how it could be handled a tad differently (and perhaps maybe with a smile - but that's just me), but I do not work circ, and my opinion means nada.

OK, so, as you can imagine, patrons are constantly upset about this policy, and many have asked that we use cards that attach to their keys, like the ones you routinely get at the supermarket for your discounts and such. Most places give you three cards - two keychain type, and one credit card type. People want these keychain cards.

Our consortium recently adopted a new name (thank God), and with this new name comes new cards. I asked one of the staff people (SP) tonight if we were getting keychain cards:

Me - "Are we going to get keychain cards in addition to regular cards?"
SP - "No."
Me - "Because I have had several patrons ask for those...."
SP - "No. Those are gross. I don't want to handle people's keys."
Me - "Well, yeah, but, patrons seem to really want them."
SP - "We're not getting them."

Allllllriiighty then. Business as usual.

First, let me state that I am a germ-o-phobe of the highest order, and the "yuck" factor is not lost on me. But, um, folks, we handle books all day. Books that have had God-knows-what done with/to them. Books that have been in the hands of many many many people, in the course of one day alone. So, uh, the yuck factor is a non-argument, as far as I'm concerned.

What drives me crazy is that this kind of thinking is standard operating procedure around here. What the patrons want is rarely given much weight - it's always what's easiest for staff - and worse yet - what is easiest for one or two particular staff members. I did not hear that anyone had any input into this decision to not get kaychain cards. I can bet that none of the professional staff had any input. And in fact, I can bet that this decision was made by one person (maybe two). I'll eat crow if I'm wrong on this, but I bet I'm not.

Stuff like this drives me crazy.


Joshua M. Neff said...

Wow! What insane customer service! "Our patrons want--" "I don't care, it's our way or the highway!" I mean, can you not even use your driver's license or other picture ID instead of your library card? And if not, why not?

I hope all the karma you're earning by putting up with this nets you some sweet prize, and soon.

Karin Dalziel said...

I worked as a page in a library- let me tell you, there is absolutely no way to get your hands filthier.

I would LOVE a keychain thingie for my library.

Bill said...


My branch library, part of your consortium, but in the big city,
8=<( is offering the keychain style cards for free, with a new barcode number, because of the name change, as these cards will have the new name on them.

Keep the faith.

Dan said...

Wow... I mean, wow.

I'm a Circ geek. I've worked Circ for over 13 years now and I love it just as much now as I did when I first started as a page. I'm now the head Circ Guy for the biggest branch in my system.

Your Circ staff sounds like a bunch of halfwits. Sorry, but I hate those keychain cards too. Not because of any germ thing, but because, ages ago, we had them at the last library I worked for and they had a flaw.

They break. They break right off. I got to the point where I'd have to recommend to folks not to get them because of this. I couldn't hand out poor quality cards without at least letting them know they were poor quality.

But you know what? Even after warning the patron, I'd say at least half went ahead and got it anyway.

As for not allowing them to check out without a their library card. Well, that driver's license was good enough for the state, good enough for a cop, and I figure it's good enough for me. We live in a world of plastic and, if they just don't want to carry one more bit of synthesized polymers with them, fine.

The Sheck said...

What?!? This is ridiculous. I would be PUMPED if my public library offered me keychain cards, if for no other reason than because they actually thought about my convenience.

But more than the keychain, the part that would drive me crazy is working in such a silo-ized place. Just because you don't work circ doesn't mean you might not offer useful and acheivable suggestions. Jeez.

Good luck and keep sharing.

Anonymous said...

a few thoughts on this one...

1) Keychain cards can really work well - back home we got them while I was working at the public library and they held up pretty good

2) they can work really badly - my current card has been on my keychain no longer than the old one - and I'm constantly trying to tape the lamination back down because it aggrivates me - still works at the library so far though...


3) wouldn't allowing lookups using drivers licenses and such actually be more secure than the library card, and therefore shouldn't be a problem? After all - anyone who isn't particularly known to library staff could take someone elses card (another person not particularly known to staff) and check out books on it without anyone ever questioning it...

Tim said...

Oy! This totally drives me nuts as well. I much (much) prefer the keychain cards, and fortunately the libraries in my area all offer you a set when you get your card. I also have to agree that using alternative forms of ID (particularly DL) should be standard form. Hell, I think every library ought to have a terminal facing the patron that allows you to punch in a user name and password (like the one you use for placing holds on books from an OPAC) that pulls up your record so the staff don't even have to worry about a card. But I suppose in most libraries that would be the very height of insanity.

Anonymous said...

Jessica wrote: Stuff like this drives me crazy. I would suggest that be changed to: Stuff like this drives me craz(ier).

Jessica is crazy cool.

Liz said...

I think the keychain thingie is a great idea.

Oleg K. said...

I work as a Messenger Clerk (page) for a branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and I work at the circulation desk often. We've had the keychain cards for as long as I can remember. More than half of our patrons use them, I'm not sure what people would do if we didn't have them.

The kind of institutional dead end your experiencing is ridiculous. Having keychain cards along with regular cards just makes sense. It's convenient for the patrons and the staff. We look up patrons using IDs in our system, but we don't have to do that often because the patrons that would lose their cards instead have them attached to their key rings.

Another thing...What's this about not touching people's keys because they're dirty!?! I'm sorry, but after handling books at a public library all day, how can someone expect Not to have dirty hands? That's what water is for, that's what soap is for. I can't believe someone who works at the circulation desk would use that as an excuse. (I'm scrunching up my face just thinking about it). If they have a problem with dirt, they should where gloves.


Hopefully someone at your library realizes that you're trying to make some progress in library services and goes forward with the idea. Good luck.

Jessica said...

It's official (I think) - this post has received more comments than any other post on the blog!

So, an update on "keychain Gate"

I brought the issue up to one of the librarians, and all of my suspicions were pretty much confirmed. First, the suspicion that no one cares; I was pretty much told to get over it, it's a "done deal." Which, um, why? We can't order some keychains anyway? Huh? What? I don't understand.
Second, that my opinion means pretty much ZERO around there, and my desire for better service, and, oh, I don't know, anything interesting or fun, is simply seen as me being a chronic malcontent, and not a good librarian. And third, that this decision was pretty much made by one person. Oh, supposedly the decision was taken to the board (?), but, that rarely results in increased patron services.
I'm thinking about becoming a baker.

bophisto said...

You should tell patrons , "we can't offer you the keychain thing" ..."but we can implant an RFID library chip inside your body" ..This must be done with a straight face.

The idea of worrying about touching peoples keys for fear of germs is quite bizarre I must say. I saw a homeless man with a keychain L.A Public Library card hanging off his keys..now how's that for hipster cool.

Personally I don't really like the keychain things for library or supermarket club cards..but if the people(patrons) demand it..they should be accomodated. It's not even a revolutionary idea..sad how slow some libraries are to change sometimes. Maybe the goal is to piss off enough patrons so they don't come back...EVER!

Anonymous said...

We DO have the keychain cards, and yes, they get gross, but so do regular sized library cards that hang out in people's pockets with dirty kleenex, etc., etc. Yuck.

I wash my hands a lot.

Our system policy is no checkouts without a card, but we bend the rules regularly as we are a small library and we tend to know just about everyone. It just seems like good PR.

Ryan Deschamps said...

Just a thought -- you wouldn't be able to use your driver's license to make an interac or credit card payment.

As ID the DL is better for sure, but we are talking about the mode of transaction here. It's a little bit different.

I'm not saying that the DL should never be used, but there is something to be said to encouraging some respect for the library card and treat it the way you would a DL or a credit card (ie. call when you lose it, get it replaced asap, carry it with you as much as possible, bring it on every library trip).

Then there's the fairness piece of the deal. Like the way most commercial spots stopped accepting personal cheques because of the over-involved approval processes required (wasting the time of everyone else in the lineup).

That's not to say that I think draconian policies are the way to go, but I can think of some reasons not to allow address checks.

Ryan Deschamps said...

Oh yeah -- as for keychain cards: I'd get formal with it.

Present a brief (1 page) on the use of keychain cards and the feedback from other branches. Include advantages and disadvantages.

You may temporarily ruffle feathers, but one of the major tenets of public service is "speaking truth to power."

They may still say "no," but the point is that, as a public servant, you have a responsibility to point out the flaws in the policy to your supervisor.

After you've done this, leave it be. Save the document though. Your supervisor may come back asking for it. :)