From the catalogs of babes

Today the head librarian comes up to me. Apparently one of the staff members was looking for two books about footwear and could not find either one. The head librarian showed me the catalog records.



The head librarian is concerned (and rightfully so) that something about the call numbers may be incorrect. 658, being a number used for business management, seems an unlikely number for foot wear books. I agree that it seems odd, although it is possible that the books are about managing a footwear business, and I can’t really tell for certain from the record alone (although I have suspicions that they’re not, due to the pattern-making references). In the back of my head, I seem to recall previously using a number in the 600’s for manufacturing footwear, but it wouldn’t have been 658.

So I do a little research and I discover that there is indeed a number in the 600’s for manufacturing footwear–685. Holy dyslexia, Batman. I go the the 685 shelf and ta-da! The books are there. The spine labels were correct, but the records were not. Once again, those books were essentially lost.

Between misshelving, lack of shelf-reading, incorrect interpretations of shelf order, and mislabeling, it’s a miracle we can find anything in this library at all. Some of it I can understand–we try to encourage patrons to not reshelve materials, but it’s not very effective, and that and our jam-packed bookshelves accounts for quite a few books out of order. But something like this, what happened? And how can I even begin to puzzle out where it went wrong along the way so I can fix it? Usually in these cases, it’s a simple typographic error, but in this instance, the spine label was correct and the record was wrong. Perhaps the person who added the holdings mis-typed, but then the corresponding spine label should have had the typo as well. I’ve been wondering if it was my error, and my fingers got sloppy (hey, it’s been known to happen to the best of us), but that still doesn’t answer how the label ended up correct. The idea of multiple errors, while not impossible, seems unlikely. (See Occam’s Razor.)

Obviously I fix item I or other staff members encounter and bring to my attention. But that’s piecemeal. I know the first place to fix this should be before the materials make it out onto the floor, and believe me, that’s something I want to tackle as soon as I can. But even if that reduces the problem, there will still be a certain percentage of errors. In addition to performing a complete system analysis to discover when and where breakdowns in cataloging & processing occur, I want to know: Once the books get out of the workroom and into the stacks, is there any global way of finding and correcting errors? You can’t fix this by shelf reading or running reports–the first won’t tell you if the catalog is wrong, and the second won’t tell you if the label is wrong.  But short of giving an employee a list of every book and manually checking each item one by one, what else can be done?

I feel sure that our library must be anomalous with our high amounts of such errors, but on the off chance that anyone else out there has had a serious issue with catalog record/spine label discrepancies, what did you do? Are there any other, more efficient ways of tackling this issue besides manually auditing the entire collection?

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).

et cetera