Stories from My Past: You didn’t return the book.

librarian shh photo

I was accused once of not returning a book. Yes, shocking I know.

I went to check more books out in the library that I had visited many times. The librarian said that I didn’t return a book I knew that I had. I always return a book as soon as I read it so that I can get new ones to read. I had brought the new books in to return and was checking out some more. Yes, I am a hard-core nerd.

librarian shh photo
librarian shh photo

I asked her to double-check her system. She did that and then was quite insistent that she was correct. So on a whim, I went back to where the book was shelved and found it. I also discovered that they had multiple copies of the book and brought the other copy as well. I presented this information to her and she went back to talk with a manager. She came back and said that they had made an error and I was free to check out more books.

I have seen in life that when the computer system is wrong, people always trust the computer system. Even though I had proof that I had returned the book, the date of the books I had just returned was the same day, I wasn’t believed it. In addition, the file on the computer showed that I had checked out books for a long time and always had them in early. Why would I start not returning books now? More importantly, why not check the physical shelf instead of relying on the same system whose reliability is in question?

No matter what a computer system says you have to ask if the answer it is giving you is reasonable. Too often people who work computers don’t know what a reasonable answer is. For example, I had given lots of books to that same library and the librarian knew me. Is someone who donates books going to steal from the same library? Is it reasonable that given the large amounts of books I checked out, a mistake might have been made?

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When computer systems break down you see the problems with people who depend too heavily on the system. A few times I have been in stores where their POS (cash registers) have failed. The cashiers really struggle to use a calculator. Or most often when those systems fail, they just say that they are cash only or close up shop. If I was a merchant I would have a spare old-style manual cash register that could accept and handle transactions for those times.

Computers automate so nicely and make things very simple, but at the end of the day, they are just tools. Let us not let our tools make all of our decisions, please.