By Juliana Adelman
[Apologies for lack of image, computer won’t do it. I hope to fix it later.]
I don’t like to be a curmudgeon who poo-poos anything new, but…I am finding all the changes at the NLI a little bit jarring and not 100% for the better. Let’s begin with the new cafe, which I pointed out in this month’s recommendations. I have now eaten there twice this week in between reading about railway abattoirs. I am sorry to report that the prices have not come down nor has the food consistently improved. The coffee is more than 100% better which is very welcome (especially when it costs €2.50). The scones are lovely (€2.95 with jam and cream). The salad plate (€5.95 for medium, couldn’t face meat after all the cow slaughter) was pretty lackluster. It consisted of some rocket, a potato salad with zero flavor, a sort of waldorf salad with awkwardly large pieces of celery and equally little flavor and some kind of feta/tomato/cucumber salad which was, well, salty. The best part was a lovely, fresh slice of bread that it came with. I was given the reader’s discount which was supposed to be 10% but was calculated at 45 cents. That said, the sandwiches (ham sliced off the bone, €6.70) looked nice. They were the same sandwiches every day I was in, though. Vegetarians get salad or soup (€5.50). Aside from the food I was really disappointed not to see the familiar faces of the previous cafe staff. Of course it should have occurred to me that change of management would mean change of staff, but it seems silly not to have retained the people who knew all the NLI staff and many of the readers. And probably could have helped them to avoid the inevitable scrambling at the start.
My other bugbear is the new ‘pilot’ ordering system. To be quite frank, I don’t like it. For those of you who have not been to the NLI in a while, here is how it works. You may place orders for books by email or phone the day before you wish to come in. These books will be there for you in the morning from 9:30. This is very useful. Otherwise you may order books during the day at 10, 12, and 2. From Monday to Wednesday you can also order them at 4 and 6:30, on Thursday and Friday last order is 3:30. As ever, the staff are very efficient at collecting the books once ordered. But if you should find that it takes you no time at all to zip through books that turn out to be of no use then you better have something else to do while you wait for the next ordering time to come around. And for those people who would drop in after work to look at a book you would be best advised to order it the day before.
I understand that this system is intended to deal with staffing and budget cuts and possibly even make things more efficient. I also understand that many libraries use an advanced ordering system. However, it does seem that it could be organized more sensibly. Why not clump the times for ordering together in the morning and after lunch instead of just spreading them at nearly 2 hour intervals? Has anyone else experienced the system and have further suggestions? I’d like to send them a letter since they don’t seem to be collecting specific responses to the ‘pilot’ system anywhere in the library.
I love the NLI. During my PhD, when I spent too many hours there to count, some of the counter staff bent over backwards to help me. Many of them had an enormous amount of knowledge and experience with the collections and, as one staff member confided, this experience is no longer being used to assist readers. When I have used special collections such as ephemera I have found the librarians enthusiastic, knowledgeable and helpful. This new system, it seems to me, is not making the best use of their assets.
The sole person at the counter for much of the day yesterday was an extremely friendly and competent volunteer who had to deal with lines of readers. I don’t know where the usual desk staff are, they must be in the stacks collecting orders. I know the NLI is being financially squeezed and they are trying to make up for lost time on digitization projects, improving the catalogue and providing public activities (there were lots of children in yesterday afternoon listening to a story). But in my mind the library is first and foremost a resource to researchers (not just professional ones) and a national repository; not a tourist attraction, not a place to read the newspaper. What do you think?