J UKR

Here is the oversized-holds cart at Yorkville – necessary because the wall shelves are too short, but having the side effect of exposing interesting books to whomever passes by. I always take a look.

Cart with a couple of items on it and taped-on Oversized Holds sign

One day I saw a children’s book and could not quite understand the cover. I looked at the barcode: J UKR. A Ukrainian children’s book. (Cyrillic cursive is pretty hard to read even for someone like me who can painstakingly sound out roman type. It’s a piece of cake for native readers, obviously.)

Anyway. First of all, I didn’t know the library had Ukrainian children’s books. (French, Chinese, Italian, Portuguese – sure.) So they exist. But not at Yorkville. Somebody put a hold on it. And that somebody is going to be a very interesting patron.

Who is she? What’s her background? Against all odds, is she teaching her kids Ukrainian? (The ancestral language must be preserved at any cost!) Isn’t she interesting, I repeat?

But because of RFID self-checkout, Yorkville staff will never meet her, never get to know her, have no inkling of what could be a new set of customers with unique needs.

This Ukrainian-speaking mom – I am aware of the assumptions I’m using here, thanks – becomes a cog in a machine: Search for book via computer, place hold via computer, enter branch and bypass every human being to check out book by computer.

This Ukrainian-speaking child is not a computer, nor is the mother. Because of a decision to turn every item in the Toronto Public Library into a miniature radio transmitter (even Ukrainian children’s books) and download labour to library users, staff will never get to know either of them.

TPL vice-chair (and – though no longer on the official registry – registered lobbyist) Mike Foderick: “The Toronto Public Library is in the stone age, in my opinion, when it comes to RFID.

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