More and more nowadays, we encounter machines where once we would have encountered a person. Have you ever stopped and wondered how often you interact with a machine in your daily life? We're talking about self-checkouts and self-check ins. They are in many large retailers and grocery stores, at the airport, fast food chains, and even one of our most community orientated spaces: libraries.
On a recent visit to Merritt, BCGEU leadership became aware of frustrations caused by these automated checkouts. Seniors and others in the community are now forced to use self-checkouts and when problems arise, they then have to go to the front counter and ask library staff to assist them, back at the self-checkout! The whole process is unnecessary and embarrassing.
In some cases, machines are a good thing. Automation can free up staff from certain tasks so they can focus on other work. However, all too often automation is implemented to cut labour costs, and that means eliminating jobs. That's why it's important to view "improvements" such as these with a critical eye.
In the case of the library in Merritt, patrons prefer to deal with a staff member than with the automated checkouts that dehumanize daily life. It seems we still prefer human-to-human contact, especially at a community space like libraries. In addition to potential job loss, there are other problems with self-checkouts. For example, higher-than-expected levels of shoplifting are often seen. In the U.S., Ikea discovered it took longer for customers to use the self-checkout than the checkout with a staff member present.
Job losses, shop lifting, frustration and delays. They sound like good reasons to move away from machines and back to people. And that is what's happening. Some retailers have removed self-checkouts or cancelled plans to introduce them. However, in Canada, local librarians say self-checkouts are on the rise, even in small libraries with one or two staff.
Librarians are working hard to prevent the decline of jobs and the rise of self-checkout machines, and they need your help. An effective way to make a difference is by sharing your thoughts with management and decision makers. Ultimately, show your support for library staff by not using self-checkouts whenever possible. You'll probably get a smile and a thank you too. Importantly, that librarian will also get a pay cheque.
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