On Tuesday this past week, the unthinkable happened here in library land. No, they didn’t change the Dewey Decimal System; our Internet went down, which was almost as traumatic. For around five grueling, archaic hours, we were forced to operate independent of all the magic powers we’re accustomed to being afforded by the Web. It should have been no big deal, right? We’re librarians, the original search engines. We don’t need no stinkin’ Internet! Well, as it turns out, yes, yes we do.
You see, it wasn’t just our Internet that was down, but also our Integrated Library System (ILS), Horizon, which is the fancy bit of technology that allows us to do pretty much everything related to patron accounts, including check items in and out. We were still able to check items out to patrons using Notepad, which I’m pretty sure nobody has used since this was cool, but in pretty much all other areas, our hands were tied. We couldn’t check things in, generate item pull lists, or look up patron records. Our patrons couldn’t log on to our public computers or even search the catalog (it’s times like these we wish libraries hadn’t sent all the old card catalogs away to live on a farm together). As for me personally, I was reminded just how online-dependent I am in fulfilling my job responsibilities. Sending and receiving e-mails, working on book and DVD orders, weeding, cataloging, report-based number crunching, and program researching were all a no-go. Luckily, I was able to put those things to the side and work on some promotional stuff with Photoshop. But what about patrons in need of assistance? They don’t take kindly to being set aside.
I was tasked with helping patrons with their reference questions using only the knowledge in my noggin, and I’m only slightly ashamed to admit I “cheated” a wee bit. Luckily, nobody asked me any crazy research questions like “How many grains of sand are on Johnny Depp’s private island?,” but I did get multiple requests for help locating books. Some I was able to handle on my own, but for others, I had to call in reinforcements…technological reinforcements. During my hour of darkness, I was rescued by a smart phone, a device I’ve previously railed against. My little 4G-enabled friend was unphased by the ‘net-less plague crippling the rest of our machines, so I put it to work. Using the catalog feature on the library’s Boopsie app, I was able to track down books like it was 2014. Patrons were able to get what they needed and left happy, and a semblance of normalcy was maintained.
I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. Surely it’s not “the solution to a lack of technology is different technology.” Maybe it’s best taken as a reminder that despite the negative social impact smart phones and similar gadgets sometimes have on us, haters like me have to be appreciative of their many practical uses that can be of great help in a myriad of life situations, particularly those in which their users are in some kind of jam. Score one for you, ya sorcerous phones. I still have my eye on you, partially out of wariness, but partially out of mild addiction.