During my time away, especially since I was travelling in “developing” countries, I forgot just how over-developed the Netherlands can be. Many things here are so advanced and high-tech that I feel like Holland has reached a higher level of human civilisation.
Sometimes the tendency to over-engineer basic things can be excessive and unnecessary, but most of the times it’s just genius, like the automated grocery shopping system at Albert Heijn that I previously blogged about. Last week I discovered another great example of Dutch futurism – I went to the Bilbliotheek Utrecht, the Utrecht library. Even the simple act of checking out a library book involves an ultra-modern system which replaces librarians with robots.
OK, I’m exaggerating a bit, but basically everything is done by machine. You have a library card which functions like a London Underground Oyster card – the card is registered in your name and you can top it up with credit using a machine. That credit can then be used to make loans (checking out books is free, but there is a small fee for DVDs).
If you want to search for a book, you can do so using the extremely user-friendly computerized catalogue, which is of course accessible online from the comfort of your home. You can even reserve a book online and, rather than having to search for it in the stacks yourself, have it waiting for you on the self-serve reserves shelf near the library entrance, alphabetized by your surname.
To check out a book, you use a self-service check out machine to scan the book and your library card. No stroppy librarians in sight!
When you are ready to return the book, you use another self-service returns machine to scan the book. This is the best part. I’ve seen machines like this before in the UK, but with those you just scan the book and then manually place it on a re-shelving cart next to the machine. But no, not in Holland. That is way too medieval. The Utrecht library has a conveyor belt linked to the self-service returns machine – a conveyor belt! – which whisks your book away to the re-shelving area. Futurama.