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Expert Says Proposed Library Schedules 'Wickedly Difficult' To Remember

Louisville Free Public Library

Starting in July, the Bon Air library could be open on the first and third Fridays of the month, as well as the second and fourth Saturdays. It would never be open on the Friday or Saturday of the fifth week, if there were one.

Confused yet?

This so-called rotating schedule could come to a number of Louisville Free Public Library branches with the start of the new fiscal year. It's an attempt to limit the number of hours they're open, while offering weekend availability to each region of the city.

As Louisville leaders figure out how to cut more than $25 million from next fiscal year's budget, the library system is among those taking the largest relative hits. Two branches will close as a result, while other smaller branches will have to be creative with their hours.

LFPL director Lee Burchfield recently told the Metro Council’s budget committee he was concerned about confusing library patrons with the new schedule.

"We felt that if we rotated it the first and third Saturdays instead of every other Saturday, that it might actually make it easier for the residents and patrons of that library to keep track of," he said.

Unfortunately, University of Louisville professor Keith Lyle said that is not the case — at all. He researches human memory.

"This is a wickedly difficult memory task," he said. "I give people all sorts of memory tasks in the laboratory ... and I could not design a memory task more likely to produce confusion."

It’s a complex problem because the detail library leaders think would help — the week of the month — is something most people aren't usually aware of. That means they will have to remember to pay attention to that. And remembering to remember something is hard to do.

Over time, people may become accustomed to their library's new schedule. But Lyle said that will probably follow a good amount of frustration, as patrons are sure to arrive at a branch to find it closed.

Lyle said there aren't many brain tricks for keeping this kind of varying schedule in mind. One idea would be to do something like tie a string around your finger to remind you to look up the library's hours before leaving home.

Another option is to rely on "external storage."

"One way to make any of these tasks easier is to put the load on our phones, say our phones will be the keeper of the information for us," he said. "So we don't have to remember it ourselves, we can check it."

That’ll work for some. But for people without easy internet access, including those who rely on the library to get online, it may not be so simple.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.