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Wanstead LibraryGot any overdue library books? Owe maybe a few pence on them, or perhaps a couple of pounds?? Well get this. From 1 April, anyone with outstanding fines of more than £14 will find a “recovery agency” on their case (and get an extra £10 fine in the process).

The reason is that as at the start of the month, there was  £167,692 owed in fines to the borough’s libraries, with 27,846 books, DVDs and CDs overdue. The recovery agency will also be after anyone whose items are more than 36 days overdue.

Before the new regime comes into effect, there is an amnesty on overdue items from 19 to 25 March.

• Wanstead Library will have new opening hours from 2 April 2012. They are:
Monday 9.30am – 8pm
Tuesday 9.30am – 6pm
Wednesday 9.30am – 8pm
Thursday 9.30am – 6pm
Friday 9.30am – 8pm
Saturday 9.30am – 4pm
 

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.

In these days of cuts, lots of libraries may be facing their final days. Wanstead’s too is closing – but just for six weeks as of Monday [20 December] to allow self-service tills to be installed. As Wansteadium previously reported, there are some benefits here – but most explicitly that they will allow the rather outdated practice of closing on Wednesdays to become a thing of the past.

And the prospect of whole hosts of books becoming overdue while the library was shut has been averted – all books are being stamped with a return date of 4 February – double the normal time.

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Redbridge Council has announced that Wanstead Library is to shut for six weeks after Christmas to allow the installation of self-service checkouts. These will allow books to be taken out, renewed, returned, and for fines to be paid, thus at a stroke avoiding the terrifying risk of a librarian’s raised eyebrow at a badly-overdue book. At Gant’s Hill library, where these checkouts have already been introduced, apparently 80% of people (or “customers”, as Redbridge calls them) use the machines.

A promised gain which may well offset any resistance to the machines – the council promises the library will be able to open an extra day each week, meaning an end to the rather quaint “Closed Wednesday” tradition.

There is, however, one fly in the ointment. In its statement announcing the temporary closure, the council says:

We apologise to customers for the disruption caused and hope they will continue to use other libraries, or renew their items online during this time.

This appears to mean that books taken out before the closure will have the standard three-week loan period, and that they will have to be renewed online or at another branch in the meantime. This could be bad news for the technophobic, Wanstead-bound, offline or plain disorganised, who – it appears – will be lumped with a £4.20 fine (20p x 21 days) when the library eventually reopens. At least they won’t have to contend with any eyebrows when paying it.

It must have seemed like a great idea for TV historian Tristram Hunt to plan to give a talk in the Redbridge Book and Media Festival at Wanstead Library. He was, after all, talked about as a possible prospective Labour party candidate in the very safe Labour Leyton and Wanstead seat. And the event was planned for just days before the expected date of the general election – a perfect opportunity to speak to prospective constituents about the life of Friedrich Engels,  the subject of his latest book.

Things didn’t turn out quite like that – John Cryer won the nomination, and Mr Hunt instead turned his ambitions towards Stoke on Trent, where he is hoping to succeed former Labour minister Mark Fisher.

The posters advertising the event at Wanstead Library now have “CANCELLED” across them.