The Toronto Public Library Challenges Its Users

Published Categorised as Personal, Story, Essay

I was looking through my old, very old, files to see if there’s anything worthwhile to republish on my website, and I came across a rant I wrote on the Toronto Public Library. I don’t remember writing on the TPL — I only remember writing on cocoa butter, to be honest — and I barely remember this issue I had with our beloved library. But it was interesting.

Before two drivers decided to alter my life, I was a regular at the local library. I tried to restrict my borrowings because (1) people were always complaining I was reading too much, (2) if I borrowed too often in one week I’d lose track of which book was due when, and (3) most importantly, if I read at my preferred rate I’d run out of books to borrow from my local library as, ahem, I had a habit of doing. I wasn’t too keen on going farther afield because farther afield was getting farther and farther. And I didn’t reread books pre-injury because as soon as I read the first paragraph, the entire book would come back into my head as if I’d just read it at Warp speed. So why bother?

Anyway, as I was saying, I found my rant on the TPL and decided to check out its website to see if anything had changed. I clicked on the big arrow at the top of its main page pointing to website redesign. That might be interesting, I thought, and besides it caught my eye amongst all that text. And so it was. Apparently, library users are being challenged by the brand-new catalogue system. (Click on screen captures below to see in full, readable size.) I shrugged, not caring too much about what those challenges could be and surfed off to the new catalogue. If it’s new, it must be snazzy, right? And easier to use than a decade ago, right? Um.

TPL News Page

The catalogue was easy to use. Just type in the author’s name. Hmmm…let’s try Agatha Christie first. I clicked Enter, and presto, it came up with maybe half-a-dozen search results for one library. That was quick. But pretty paltry if you ask me, and I noticed the one I randomly clicked on was on hold. A paperback on hold? That’s pretty bad.

I backed up to the search page and tried Rohinton Mistry. Ahhh, now I know what those challenges are. Absolutely hysterical if one was like me and just surfing for the heck of it. But if I was really looking for Mistry’s book, I’d be tearing my hair out in frustration. I did try twice, thinking I must have done my usual mini-not-noticing-what-I-was-doing thing and clicked on the wrong item and it not sinking in right away that any search result with Mistry in it should not pull up the page I was sent to. Nope, I had clicked on the one I thought I had, but the TPL’s computer is clearly one confused puppy. The kicker though, the really, truly weird part about this search result, the one that has me shaking my head in wow-isn’t-the-universe-strange, is that it brought up an anthology that was edited by my editor. And if it’s not him, it’s a guy with the same name and birth year!

TPL Search Result

And so it seems that some things don’t change in almost a decade of being out of touch with library doings. The TPL continues to use computer systems and methods that are as challenging as ever to the poor user (and they also can no longer spell, having misspelled the title of Mistry’s book). It’s a good thing I hadn’t tried to enter its portal only eight years post-head-injury. Maybe I’ll wait awhile longer, maybe a few years longer, before I attempt to pit my brain against its computer. Oh, and about that article I wrote in the 1990s, I’ll publish it in my next post, just for humour’s sake.

My Duck logo walking on my books in pink and blue shading.



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