Inside the new-ish Wanstead Library

The renovations at Wanstead Library are now complete, and readers have had their first week to see what they think. The initial impression on entering is that there’s much more space, because the central issuing and returns desk has been removed.

In its place is a smaller desk off to the side, and two silver self-service ‘borrowing machines’. They are not unlike the kinds of self-service tills you get in Tesco’s or Boots, but sleeker and simpler to use.

The process is easy – octogenarian acquaintances of Wansteadium have demonstrated they are not necessarily a bar – though really technophobic sorts will probably not get as far as finding out that there’s nothing to be scared of.

There are only three steps – put your library card under the red beam; then place your books in a pile on the shelf, then take your ‘receipt’ which tells you when they are due.

Being at all impressed that the machine knows exactly which books are on its shelf without them having to be scanned individually is probably pretty lame (a bit like Douglas Adams on humans thinking digital watches are “pretty neat”) but it is impressive.

In fact the explanation of the technology from one of the men who supplied it sounds so convoluted, it’s perhaps a miracle they made it as simple as it is:
(eg “RFID is a broad term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects – the use of which reduces the amount of time required to perform circulation operations.” – quoted in February’s Wanstead Village Directory.)

And there’s at least one dissenting voice on the overall renovations from Barry Tighe of Ilford, whose letter in this week’s Wanstead Guardian accuses Redbridge Council of having “vandalised” the library. He says:

“It now resembles a disused warehouse. Removing books from around the walls has stopped them absorbing the noise from marauding infants, so it echoes like a disused warehouse too.”

In general, Wansteadium reckons the changes will amount to two minor cultural ones, and one larger social one.

Cultural #1: It’s farewell to that traditional slight feeling of passport control that comes from having to check in and check out at the desk
Cultural #2: It’s also farewell to bits of gummed paper in the front of books with dates stamped on them, a small but ubiquitous experience for generations of readers.
Social #1: Most importantly of all, it’s farewell too to the library being closed on Wednesdays. In these austerity days, when many libraries are closing altogether, that’s worth celebrating. Wanstead Library, now open six days a week, for marauding infants and others.

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