From the catalogs of babes











{January 7, 2009}   parable 05202009: the language of doors

Once upon a time, a woman was graduating from a master’s degree program in library and information science. As is generally traditional, she thought it might be nice to purchase a small thank-you gift for the person in her life who had inspired, enouraged and convinced her to pursue and complete such an educational endeavor. Being a graduate of library studies, she thought a book might be a nice gift. After a bit of thought and some research, she settled on a book that she thought would suit the recipient’s well-known architectural interests as well as offer some symbolism of the graduation “opening new doors” in life: The Language of Doors.

Being a graduate student completing all the final program work, as well as working full-time at a local library, she didn’t have a lot of spare time to go from bookstore to bookstore looking for the title, so she took advantage of the ability to search store inventory on the Borders website. What luck! It said that one copy was in stock at her local store, and so she placed it on hold, only to receive the conformation email a few hours later indicating that the title could not be held. Store inventory is updated every 24 hours, the email read, and so the title may have sold between the prior evening’s update and the time she placed the hold.

Not to be deterred, she went back to the website the next day to check the possibility of purchasing the book at another location. No dice. On a whim, she decided to re-check her local store, to see if the inventory had been updated to reflect the purchase. Lo and behold, the inventory still claimed that same single copy of the title was on the shelf.

Strange, she thought. Having formerly worked at a very similar bookstore, she knew that often, when the inventory reflected one copy of an item and it could not be found, it was simply misplaced. She was the one who often found these missing books when others could not.

The store was not far, so she decided to take matters into her own hands and head over to try her luck and some of the tactics she used to employ in her bookslinging days to find the missing title. The first thing she did when she got to the store was to double check the shelf where the book was supposed to be. Sometimes, when people are working quickly, it is easy to overlook a small book or skinny spine. No luck. She then tried the shelf below, scanning across all the titles, but it wasn’t there, either. She then looked at the shelf immediately above when the book should have been.

And there it was! The book was right there the whole time, just on the wrong shelf, either sheved incorrectly originally, or perhaps pulled out by a customer upon browsing and placed back in the in correct spot. The reason why it was in the wrong place didn’t really matter–what matters was that she found it. This woman found the title when the bookstore employees didn’t.

And why didn’t they find it? Because they didn’t take the time to bother to look for it aside from the one place it was stipulated to be. 5 more minutes of thought, of effort, of going that little extra difference to be helpful and make a sale, would have made all the difference in the world.

I know a bookstore is not a library, but some of the same problems illustrated here occur in both places: the mis-shelving, either by staff or by patrons, the automated holds/reserve mechanisms that eliminate the human aspect, the customer service angle of going that little extra bit to help someone fulfill their information needs, the ability to look beyond the strict rote rules and figure out a new solution to the problem, and the idea that if a book (or other material) isn’t in the right place, it is essentially lost–and so is the circulation or the sale, and–maybe not that day, but if it happens again, and again–the customer/patron.

All the correct classification in thenworld doesn’t matter if people can’t use it. Our systems are not only as good as the humans who design them, but also as the humans who use them. Let’s remember the impact of the human aspect, both for its flaws (so we can work to overcome them) and its benefits (so we can reap them).

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[…] find it on the shelf, despite its checked-in status. I’m generally pretty diligent, and I’m no stranger to these sorts of situations. I looked for it not just on the shelf where it belongs, but the shelf above, the shelf below, the […]



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