Monday, September 01, 2008

Innanet Crowd Onslought (Moving Days M)

As I mentioned, we only had four public internet terminals when we opened the new building. Our plan was to eventually have ten and we had already installed the desks for those--or, rather, we'd installed one gigantically long computer desk with room for ten stations and serious issues with picking up the squeezings of patrons on its surface. The other six computers did arrive within a couple weeks of opening, but the company we'd purchased them from neglected to stock enough monitors to accompany them and said they weren't expecting a resupply for months. We bought new monitors from another vendor, but before they could arrive we experienced several wonderfully fun conversations such as this...

PATRON-- So when are you getting your other computers?

ME-- Oh, they're here.

PATRON-- (Does doubletake. Looks at six empty desk spaces.) Uh, they are?

ME-- Yep.

PATRON-- Um... when are you going to install them?

ME-- Already did.

PATRON-- (Looks again. Completely ignores obviously present CPUs on the floor beneath each empty desk space.) Uh... what?

ME-- Yep. Installed the computers a few days ago. They're right there. (Points to CPUs) It's just the monitors we don't have yet.

PATRON-- (Looks again. Looks back. Appears confused and slightly irritated. Decides I'm an asshole, perhaps justifiably. Walks away.)

We decided early on that our old system of using kitchen timers to monitor the amount of time patrons were using the computers was probably not a workable system for ten machines; it was hard enough getting those accurate with only three computers in the old place, plus the idea of more than one of them going off at the same time made us edgy to even think about. So the new plan was to extend the time patrons had on a given machine from a half hour to a full hour (still with no kick offs if no other patrons were waiting), reserve two of the machines as 15 minute stations and then just keep track of everything on paper. This sounded like an enormous headache to me and I was actually quite panicked about it. I began begging Mrs. A to see if we could get some sort of computer-based monitoring system, one that would allow us to decide who lived and who died. Mrs. A said that the state techs were considering such a program to be used consortium-wide, but hadn't made any firm decisions, so we'd just try our new paper system and see how things went. And so I awaited the doom of our sanity at the hands of the innanet crowd.

Quite unexpectedly, the doom did not come--at least, not at first. Even after we had all ten stations up and running, the competition for them was surprisingly slim in the early weeks. We rarely had to enforce the 15 minute station rules and often just let users of them go for however long they wanted as there were almost always other stations open. We didn't even have to kick anybody off a machine for nearly a month into the new gig and even then it was a rare occurrence. Patrons basically could stay on as long as they wanted and there was enough turnover that we didn't have any problems with competition.

As the months passed, though, we began to have more and more innanet crowders more and more often. Word was getting around that we had a bountiful supply of computers and the crowders began to crawl from beneath their rocks and lurch in to use them. Patrons we'd not seen in years, such as Matilda the Cranky Wiccan, Mabel the Amateaur Geneal0gist, Sunday Bob, and the Formerly Sweatiest Woman in All the Land, began to become regular visitors again. Previously frequent innanet crowders such as Germaphobe Gary, Johnny Hacker, Mr. Little Stupid, Mr. Hinky, and Mr. Perfect began coming far more frequently, usually multiple times a day. And former repeat offender Innanet Rogues, such as Mr. B-Natural, Old Man Printer, The New Devil Twins Auxiliary League of Neighborhood Kids, and Gene Gene the Geneal0gy Machine basically needed to have their ass roots cut out of our chairs each evening for all the innanet time they were hogging up. Sonofabitch, we even saw us a Fagin or two.

All of this increased traffic made for increasing problems with paper-based monitoring process. The way it was designed to work, patrons signed up on our sign-in clip-board with their name and time as usual; the staff then assigned them one of the vacant computers and then the staff noted which one it was beside their name on the sign-in sheet; when computer patrons departed, the staff was supposed to highlight their names to indicate their absence; then, if all computers were full, whichever patron was at the top of the list of non-highlighted names (usually Gene) was automatically up for being kicked off.

This system actually worked pretty well for several months, but as our traffic increased so did the problems inherent with it, such as the difficulties in keeping track of just who has to get off and when in addition to the other duties of our jobs. If you throw in a couple of patrons who refuse to put down what time they signed on, or incorrectly put down what time they signed on, it makes things a bit more tricky. Then add to this the complaints we began to get over the slowness of our connection speed (again, mostly from Gene) and the computers and their users quickly become an even deeper source of resentment to the staff than usual. It reached the point that we really didn't care when less than fragrant patrons, such as Mr. Stanky, paid us a visit because it gave us a nice chance to clear the decks, as it were. (Well, except for Gene. The only outside force we've ever found that could shift Gene off of a computer was the day the power went out and he had no choice.)

And on the topic of Mr. Stanky, our new computer area was equipped with vinyl upholstered chairs, the kind we could spray down with disinfectant spray and wipe clean as opposed to the old cloth chairs we had that tended to soak up his "essence." Yes, we planned the chairs around Mr. Stanky.



Anonymous said...

We're still using a dry-erase board to mark down check-in times for each terminal. There are rumors of getting automated sign-in software (O Happy Day that would be), but we don't know when . . .

Anonymous said...

Wow. We have an automated system called SAM (I forget what that actually stands for) which patrons can use to log in with their library card and PIN. It monitors their time and automatically logs them off when their time is up. I can't imagine having to keep track of their time with paper. Not these people, no way. I'm surprised any library still does it with paper. We're in a public library in the ghetto downtown. But we're automated for most things. Half of our "patrons" are bums that wander in. And most of the other patrons who come in to the computer lab want to go on "inn'net to file umployment." Or they go on YouTube. It's great.

- Chris

An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.