A few years ago, the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) installed automatic check-out machines that scan the barcode, demagnetize your books, inform you about your holds. They have six of these machines and there is no waiting at the checkout desk. The only reason to go to the desk is to pay fines in cash, or for some other unusual request. For almost all transactions, you don't really have to talk to any librarian.

This system has another benefit other than efficiency and speed, an unintended consequence that I wouldn't have realised until I met this girl at a party. She said,
"I really like the AADL system. Now, I can check out books that I am embarrassed to check out in front of a real person".
"Are these dirty books or something?"
"Oh, no, no! These are just what my brother calls trashy mystery novels. I feel now I can check them out without being judged."

There are people who don't read and those who do. Any two non-readers are more alike, than any two readers. There is the John Grisham reader and a reader of Kafka and Murakami. High-brow, low-brow and a sometimes a mix of both. I (like others) always sneak a peak at people in the queue and their book choices and attempt to form some sort of opinion of them. "Oh! so you are the kind of person who reads ABC and hence you must XYZ". And yes, it is true librarians DO look at your book choices. I have many an interesting discussion at the checkout desk. I guess they are polite enough to keep their mouths shut in case they disagree with your choice of reading material.

"I just checked out a whole bunch of books" the girl said with a huge smile on her face.

Now she could read what she wanted to, the judgement of others is suspended. Anonymity allows us sometimes to be what we are not, and sometimes it helps us be who we really are.

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