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Simplify, Simplify (or I rant about my garbage)

garbage truck by Flickr user kenjonbro

please come to my house! image used under cc license from flickr user kenjonbro

I’m from a very small town. At one time, there was a town dump, which was exactly what it sounds like – a very large pile of the town’s garbage. Sometime in the ‘90s, it became a “transfer station,” but everyone still calls it “The Dump.” The first time I drove a car, I drove it to The Dump. I’ve lived in places that don’t have garbage pick-up and in places that require it. The town I live in now has a transfer station and relatively cheap garbage pick up. Most people seem to opt for pick-up, if the trash cans at the end of my street’s driveways on Thursday mornings are any indication. I think of the trash can-laden trek up my driveway as a shorter dump run.

Several weeks ago, my husband and I found a scrap of paper in the bushes that said our refuse company was going to change the garbage pickup day and separate garbage day from recycling day. We weren’t sure if this applied to us or had been blown in from somewhere else or what. We took the path of least resistance: watch to see what the neighbors do. As it turned out, the neighbors weren’t sure either, and our street devolved into garbage can chaos as everyone opted for a different day. Experiments were difficult to conduct, especially since past experience has taught me that the garbage pick up will throw out recyclables if they’re left with the trash cans. After our recycling was left out, but the corrugated cardboard disappeared, we called the garbage company.

We were told that recycling was now on Tuesday, with garbage remaining on Thursday. We were also informed that we had to stop putting our cans and jars in bags and put them loose in the recycling bin with the newspapers in bags on top. That week, it became clear that the garbage pick up was actually on Tuesday, so maybe recycling is on Thursday? I’m still not sure. I did come home one day last week to find all of my milk cartons and tetrapak (those boxy things soup comes in) cartons on the front lawn. “I guess those aren’t recyclable,” my husband deadpanned.

It’s been several weeks of confusion and I think we have the new routines down. Last week, they took our bottles and cans, but left the newspaper. I’m not entirely sure why, but my neighbor (who opts to take her stuff to the transfer station) said that the recycling pickup won’t take non-newspaper paper (though it can be recycled at the transfer station).

The rules and schedule are convoluted, unclear, and a little arcane (I’m still unclear on the paper issue). This might all be clearer if there was a chart online (or even sent via snail mail – I’ll take anything), but something as seemingly straightforward as garbage pickup shouldn’t require a chart, should it? I’m sure the company that does the pickup thinks I’m a complete dolt for being so confused by the garbage and recycling rules and schedules.

Does this sound familiar? Does your library have a set of circulation and fine rules that require a chart, handout, or series of bookmarks? This is the sort of thing that seems like a good idea as it evolves (“I know, let’s charge lower fines for children’s books, since parents take out big stacks of them and children sometimes lose them!”) but eventually involves committees and shared Excel files.

Simplicity may be overrated when it comes to selling appliances – Don Norman’s assessment of washing machines and marketing taught us that while people will pay more for complex controls, they really only need and use a few settings. Immensely complicated library “settings” that leave our members cross checking their patron type with their items out or require staff to launch into lengthy explanations serve no one.

Complexity is good – when it serves a purpose. Library bloggers have long exhorted librarians to look closely at any “that’s the way we’ve always done it” practice. Unnecessary complexity may be a useful shorthand for ferreting out policies that leave your patrons aggravated and ready to dump their library.


2 comments for “Simplify, Simplify (or I rant about my garbage)”

  1. I’m revising our circulation policy and simplicity doesn’t seem to be happening. Maybe academic libraries shouldn’t have separate patron classes? Do faculty really need to have books for a semester?

    Posted by Robin | December 2, 2010, 12:05 pm
  2. My recent hero is A., an associate director at a local library who realized their ILL fine structure served no purpose other than to stop people from using a service and Threw It Out. Brave gal, good move.

    Posted by K.G. Schneider | December 29, 2010, 2:03 pm

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