Tag Archives: library

Memory incident

Recently I had occasion to use one of the public computers in my local library. At one time this was a regular occurrence because I didn’t have internet access at home, but now it’s only something I do very occasionally.

The system is: you log in to the system with your reader number and passcode, and then get an hour’s use of the computer.

I typed in my reader number, then was surprised and horrified to realise that I had no idea what my passcode was. But I remembered from a previous occasion that it had been possible to log in as a guest, so I went to the desk to ask if I could do that.

The library assistant looked rather helplessly at me, said something about not having enough access to the system to do anything, and suggested I try entering my birthday as the passcode. I knew that my birthday most certainly wasn’t the passcode. But she also told me that the system didn’t have any limit on how many times I could enter the wrong code. I wouldn’t end up getting locked out if I tried everything I could think of.

What I knew, though, was that in the days when I had known my passcode, I’d primarily remembered it not by the digits themselves or some fancy mnemonic for them, but by the pattern of keystrokes needed to type them. I’d remembered them pretty much like a fingering pattern on an instrument.

I went back to my seat and stopped trying to remember the passcode. I typed in my reader number, thought about where my finger should probably go for the first digit of the passcode, then let my fingers type a sequence of keys that felt right on the keyboard. I clicked OK.

Immediately, on the first attempt, I found myself logged in. The key to remembering my passcode had been to stop trying to consciously remember it, and to let my fingers follow the pattern that they always had done when typing it before. The code wasn’t still programmed into my brain, but the movements for typing it were still programmed into my fingers.

That’s what musicians are talking about when they mention kinaesthetic memory.


First of all: apologies to any library staff who are looking over my shoulder as I paste the text into this post; today it’s nice and quiet, and I’m enjoying myself. Well it’s just got a bit noisier but I’m sure it will pass.

Working in a library

Well, working in it as a library user, trying to update my blog yesterday. With a very tired brain, and eyes that didn’t want to stay open and a mild headache, but able to concentrate given the right conditions.

Needing quiet, I went to the Heritage Library (a section of our town library), which is normally full of people quietly sitting at microfiche readers and ploughing through parish records, 100-year-old newspapers and the like in search of their family history and what have you. Looking forward to a nice quiet time online in congenial surroundings.

Only four or five other users in–that’s a good start 🙂 And they’re all quietly engrossed in what they’re doing…

Only one problem: the library staff. Now, you expect that librarians and library assistants will be quite sensitive to noise, don’t you? And that they’ll periodically ask people to be a little bit quieter, if they start talking too loudly and making it difficult for people to work?

In fact, the library staff were making far more noise than most of the users–so much so that it was next to impossible to concentrate on what I was doing. The main problem was one particular staff member who had the sort of voice which is naturally loud, but who seemed quite unaware of its loudness or of any need to restrain it. He was talking at a volume suitable for giving a lecture to us all, really. And the telephone at the desk kept ringing–why as it there, rather than in the office about ten feet away–causing him to have long VERY LOUD conversations.

Next to each of the PCs, including the one I was using, is a little sign saying something like “In consideration of other library users, please keep conversation to a minimum and ensure that your phone is turned off or on silent ring”. I happened to be looking at that when their phone went off yet again, apparently on the loudest possible ring, and was cheerfully and loudly answered by Mr Noisy.

So, with some embarrassment, I went and found the staff member who looked the most senior and was working the most quietly, and said the noise was making it difficult to work–was there any way to keep the noise down? A few minutes later, Mr Noisy was talking somewhat more quietly. For a short while, anyway. Although still very audible it did give the impression of someone trying to talk quietly, and that’s quite helpful.

A bit ironic though when the library users have to ask the library staff to be quiet and not the other way round! So it was amusing too, not only annoying. A friend suggested to me that maybe loud talking is how librarians get their job satisfaction. 😉

Why “library staff”?

Why have I kept talking about “library assistants” and “library staff” in all that, when “librarians” is shorter and easier to type?

What you need to know is that librarians and library assistants are not the same thing. In fact they’re very much not the same thing. A librarian is someone who has done a degree-level qualification on how to run a library, how to accurately and consistently catalogue books, etc. A library assistant is simply someone who works in a library, carrying out whatever practical tasks they are assigned.

Your typical librarian, however, deals all the time with people who don’t realise that their job entails any skill at all. If you want to upset a librarian, go round calling library assistants librarians. I have several friends who are librarians, so I prefer not to upset them… and since I don’t know who was a librarian or library assistant in that library, it seems best to call them all “library staff”.

Note to library staff: See, I’m on your side really! 😉