I Still Love the Library, But I Have a Question

This morning I saw this book on John Scalzi’s blog and… Can we pause a moment to talk about John Scalzi? I love Scalzi’s blog. I love the discussions that he has there. I learn about books I want to read there. And I can recognize him as a talented, skilled writer. I just don’t care for his books. Like, I don’t hate them or anything. They’re just not my thing.

I think about that more often than I should, just to remind myself that the relationship between a writer and a reader is more complicated than “you write something perfect (and I do think that Scalzi is pretty much the breed standard for his type of sci-fi) and everyone who knows about you will read your work and love it.” There’s a certain kind of magic, too. Like, I know a lot of people for whom Catcher in the Rye was a formative read. I think I read it too late.

Which is to say that Scalzi stays on my radar because I think he’s a great writer and I love his blog and I wonder if there’s a time when the alchemy will happen. Will I just be browsing along and pick up one of his books and finally get it?

Anyway, I do want to read Southern Gods, so I looked for it in our library and they don’t have it. So I interlibrary loaned it.

But here’s the thing that has been niggling me since I started regularly going to the library. At the doors of every library in town are those upright plastic doohickies that you would think would detect when a book that hasn’t been checked out leaves the library.

But my library has self-check-out. I think only half the time I’ve checked out has someone even been at the desk. And I don’t have to run the books over anything to demagnetize any metal strip. And I have walked into other libraries, through those plastic upright things with books I checked out at Bordeaux to return them. And there’s never been an alarm.

So what do those plastic thing do? Just work as a psychological deterrent to stealing? Or are there things that are strip protected, that I just haven’t encountered yet?

17 thoughts on “I Still Love the Library, But I Have a Question

  1. You don’t like Scalzi? I think my opinion of you just slipped a little… I really enjoy his writing style, but I guess the sci-fi setting he normally works in is an acquired taste.

    I remember somewhere, I think it was the main library, they used to rub my books on the top of the counter when I checked them out. I’ve always assumed there was some mechanism to demagnitize them under the counter. Then again, it could be fake. I know lots of stores have fack security cameras so it would work on the same deterrence principal.

  2. Oh, believe me, I get that the fault is mine and not him. Like I said, he’s clearly THE writer in his genre–a great talent. I just… yeah… I think it’s the setting. It feels like I have this terrible shortcoming. It’s like eating what you know is a delicious, excellently prepared meal and just not liking it.

    Maybe they are left over from when they did have some kind of security system in place. I just know that when I tried to hand my books to them to rub, they looked at me like I was crazy.

  3. 1) I also don’t love Scalzi’s writing
    1a) but he did some cool ally stuff during Racefail
    2) The more SF&F one reads, the more one finds the Nashville Public Library system lacking. I could go on at length about this, but I won’t
    3) My branch used to take care about demagnetizing the strips, but now that you mention it, I don’t know how they do it now, if at all

  4. Have you tried Agent to the Stars? It’s really, really funny. Coincidentally, I only read it a few weeks ago. My Dad, who’s a hard Sci-Fi only kinda guy, recommended it. Dad and I don’t always like the same books (he didn’t like Terry Pratchett, which made me hiss in frustration), but I thought AttS was terrific.

  5. The self checkout automatically demagnetizes your book, so the alarms don’t go off. It probably makes a “clunk” noise when it does that. :-)

  6. I’m going to rush headlong into a not thought out reply here that will probably make me look bad, but whatever, that’s what I do.

    I like Scalzi’s blog, I like his Google+ feed. I kind of like him as person. I have read all of his books and they are the kind of SF books that I often read. However I don’t think he’s that great of a writer. I think he’s an excellent essayist and a great storyteller and I think people often conflate those things with being a great writer.

    Also when I was a librarian so many things set off our security gates. Not just improperly rubbed library books, but dvds from Blockbuster, books purchased elsewhere, video games and sometimes small electronics. It wouldn’t surprise me if librarians everywhere rose up against the magnetic strips and shut down the system with out telling anyone, just to save their own sanity.

  7. Agreeing with OC – if you’re hearing a “chunk” noise, the self-checkout is demagnetizing it for you. It depends on the system – not all work on demagnetizing a strip in the item. Some have you take a special receipt that allows the items to clear the security, some have RFID systems, etc.

  8. It could be a trade-off situation. Dummy gates are much less expensive than live security systems, and don’t have recurring costs in tattletape or RFID chips. If they have enough psychological effect to make what does end up getting stolen of lower value than the expense of maintaining a security system, then that’s often the decision a budget-slashed library will make, on the grounds that if $400 worth of books are stolen in a year, but it costs $2000 in system maintenance, materials, and staff time in the extra processing for a year’s worth of security system, then letting those books walk leaves an extra $1600 to buy new ones with.

    Public libraries especially are left to such terrible bargains.

  9. 1. Crackerjackheart pretty much described Scalzi for me. He’s gotten a lot of mileage out of one fun book with a clever idea, one sort-of fun sequel and then a third book that was kind of a dud and–the ultimate insult–a fourth “book” that was the story of the third book told from a different POV.

    I loved _Old Man’s War_, but I think Scalzi is one of those writers who is better at self-promotion than writing, and used that one decent book to parlay himself a lot of high-profile positions with SyFy and other umbrella organisations.

    2. My librarian friend told me ages ago (and she could have been repeating a party line) that when they went to self-checkout they started using an alarm that embeds in the library barcode you scan to check out. It kind of sounds like BS to me, but she seemed to have details about it. Of course all the books i’ve ever gotten–even the new releases post-inception-of-self-check–have the plastic lojack bar in them. So who knows?

  10. At my library when you use the self checkout, you don’t have to scan anything. You just pile all your books on this big grey square and it automatically figures out what they are.

    Since the self checkout can do it, I have no reason to disbelieve that the scanners at the exits don’t also know exactly which library materials I’m taking through them.

  11. Hmm. One too many negatives! Let’s say that a simpler way: I’m pretty sure the security gates can detect which books I have.

  12. Hmmm, a few weeks ago I walked out of the main library with a book I had not checked out. No bells, whistles or alarms.
    I realized it almost immediately and went back in and checked it out.

  13. Even when they work, the alarms are erratic. Unfortunately ours go off anytime a wheelchair passes through. Awful!

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