Guest post: Notes from a techie patron, part 1

One of the recurring themes of my library science education has been that I see conversations about information all the time — some at school from a library perspective, and some at home from a computer science perspective; as a dot-com-era engineering school graduate married to same, I have a social circle dominated by software engineers. I often find radically different assumptions about the uses, roles, and limitations of technology in these spheres — the sort of differences that derail conversations for half an hour as you hash out why it is you can’t talk to each other, and the derailment ends up more rewarding than the initial conversation. Many of these conversations, of course, are with my software engineer husband, Grant Gould, who has written a guest post for this blog. It’s long, so it’s in two parts; part 1 below.


I am not a typical library patron. Taking my views and preferences into account is neither helpful nor in all likelihood appropriate for professional library-types. This is only one data point, and an outlying one.

What is and isn't my library

What isn't my library

Before I complain about my library, I should establish what is not my library, because there are a lot of red herrings.

This is not my library: it is closed. In fact if you don't get home from work before 6, there's not much there at all.

This is not my library: it has fewer than 10% of the books I look for.

Is this my library? I like the sound of "virtual"…

This is not my library: I am unauthorized.

(Note that if you log in as "guest" you can get a real treat… some great best-of-the-mid-90's web design, "not currently compatible with IE7"…)

My library is my library. It has most books that I look for, is always open, and I appear to be authorized to use it.

Library professionals may argue that this is not really a library at all — it is a consortium of some sort. I disagree with this analysis: It is for my purposes more of a library than any of the various other not-my-libraries on offer. It is hard to see how it is less a library than the West Somerville. More broadly, it does a better job of meeting (this) patron's information wants; it has the library nature.

Why my library annoys me

If you make much use of my library (, you will discover a number of things. First of all, it wants me to pick up my books somewhere — and not somewhere convenient, either. I don't understand why they need more than a kiosk at a coffeehouse somewhere, but my books go to the big not-my-library that is closed weekends and most evenings.

Anothing thing that you will notice is that the user interface is terrible. In fact it is weirdly terrible. Consider this screen, and ask yourself what you would do if this were a book you would like to read later:
(Ed. note: The image is too wide for my blog theme; you can see the whole at, though this gets the point across.)

  • You cannot bookmark this link, because it will just send you to the library's login page instead. (Ed. note: I pointed out the permalink you can sort of see here, which helps, but can’t be directly bookmarked in the way a URL can.)

  • In fact if you linger on this page for more than ten minutes, you will be redirected back there! This is an intentional feature — viewing source shows:

    <meta http-equiv="Refresh" content="600;URL=/search/" />

    Way to vandalize my browsing session there, guys! (I hypothesize that this was a "security" feature for viewing this page from a public terminal. No, really, stop laughing!)

  • "Save to My List," "View My List," and "Clear My List" all refer to a "wish list" feature, which sounds awesome — but the wish list is cleared at the end of your session or any time you open a new tab. Hope you didn't put anything hard-to-find there!

  • You can also — actually persistently! — save a search. Unfortunately "save search" is no longer available when, as in this screenshot, you have narrowed down your search to a single item.

  • The actual way to save it is to request the book and then click a "freeze request" buttom. But — requests cannot be frozen if the book was available. If the book was available, you have just requested it, exactly what you did not intend.

By the way — anyone recognize this visual style? Those beautiful bevels? If you were doing web design in 1998, you do!

Stay tuned for part 2!

3 thoughts on “Guest post: Notes from a techie patron, part 1

  1. Just as a completely hypothetical and unlikely thought experiment, suppose Massachusetts was cutting its budget and one or more of these “libraries” had to be eliminated. Any guesses on which libraries would be first and last to go? My money is on the cockroach.


    1. Well, of course, we might have to defer to Andy on that one…

      You know, honestly, I’m not sure. The library-candidates above have a variety of funding streams (local, consortial, state) and I don’t understand them. I suspect the Minuteman consortium would be last to go, as you couldn’t cut it down without cutting down a great many of its members (and, of course, it’s useful), although I don’t know who would continue to have borrowing privileges in that universe.

      My town is soliciting resident feedback as it tries to balance its budget; it will be interesting to see how that shakes out vis-a-vis libraries.


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