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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

The Human Factor in Society

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, June 17, 2007


A library user was referred to me, for the answer to a specific question.


I provided her with the information that she needed, and then she commented to me, "You are first human being I have talked to today!"


At first, I didn't understand what that statement meant, until she further explained.


She called the library, and spoke to the Reference Department about her information request, and they transferred the call to me as I had the specific information she needed.


So, she actually talked to two people at the library.


Earlier in the morning, she called a local store to inquire about a product, and was referred to the corporation's web site by an automated answering system.


The web site didn't really answer that information need, so she called the 800 number and waited for 45 minutes after maneuvering through the game of "select the number" from the menu.


Next she contacted a utility about a problem with her bill, but was told to use their web site and enter her account number to clarify and send an e-mail if there was an error.


The third call was to try and correct a problem in her banking statement, which again led to the myriad of number selections and wait and wait until the call hung up.


I didn't refer the caller to our web site, although we do have one, but I rather told her the answer and offered to mail a hard copy, or fax it to her.


I could have offered to e-mail it as an attachment after scanning it, but being over the age of 50 I didn't think of that as an option.


The point of this is that our society is rapidly changing from communication by human contact, at least a voice; to using web pages and serving ourselves electronically.


I can recall accompanying my parents as they paid the telephone bill at the Ohio Bell Telephone Co. office in Marietta.


The crisp, colorful business office was open Monday thru Saturday Noon, and consisted of several well-dressed ladies sitting at business desks, equally spaced, each with a desk pad and new "princess phone" to show that we could replaced our black dial phone with a modern version.


The monthly bill was paid in cash, the lady stamped the receipt, and we were "set" for a whole month.


And how does this relate to the library?


Your public library system is one of the few agencies still offering a human answering the phone, and serving you the public.


At the same time, we have our catalog online, accessible from home and office, and a web site with databases for online access.


It seems to be a good mix, the reality of electronic communications and the stability and customer service of human contact.


We also continue to operate brick and mortar buildings, which are available locally for people to use.


Your library card, the same as 107 years ago when Andrew Carnegie funded our first library.