Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Well, I thought it was a fun fact

I have approximately 511 linear feet of books in my library. While giving a presentation to teachers at my school last week I was reliably informed that this is not, technically speaking, a "fun fact."

I know that I have 511 linear feet of books because I measured—and, more specifically, because I handled every single one of them this summer. Actually, by the end, I probably had less than 511 feet, as I did some weeding as I shifted. After two years in my library getting to know how my students and colleagues approached the library and the task of research, I decided to interfile the Reference collection (I am never sure whether or not to capitalize that) with the Circulating collection. And while I was at it, why not do an inventory as well, given that I'm fairly certain the collection had never actually been inventoried.

I know there is much (occasionally heated) debate about the decision to interfile, but I've never really understood why the Reference section was separate in the first place—it seems to go against everything I know about collocation and making resources accessible to the user. I did keep a small (about one shelf's worth) collection of "Ready Reference" for quick facts, but my Reference Collection is most often used for in-depth research rather than looking up quick facts. I understand why we wouldn't want to check out books that are either frequently used or difficult or expensive to replace, but I don't understand why that means we have to shelve them in a separate place. Yes, I know that some people won't understand why some books can't be checked out even if they're all shelved together, but a significant number of people don't understand why they can't check out Reference books even when they're shelved separately, so that is not a compelling argument for me. What I've most often seen is that by shelving them separately students don't look at Reference books unless they are explicitly directed to them—which means some of the best resources frequently go unused.

This strikes me as similar to what we do when we classify some literature in the 800s rather than in the fiction section—a decision which often seems arbitrary to me. What is it about a book that makes it literary enough to qualify for a Dewey classification rather than a 'Fic' on the spine label? And given how rarely students browse for reading material in the 800s, these books—presumably ones we would like our students to read— are both out of sight and out of mind.

In the end, the books we deem "important" become the books that are most often overlooked.

As part of the shifting/interfiling process I, of course, also had to create all new signs for the endcaps (is endcap the preferred library term? That's what we called them when I worked at Barnes and Noble, and I can't think of anything else to call them). I remember when I first made signs indicating the Dewey range on each section of shelves. It was my first year at this school, and my first job as a librarian. I agonized and deliberated for hours about fonts, size, spacing and myriad other details. This time? Type, print, laminate, done. And it's not that I had more time my first year—there was the matter of the Reference section that sill needed to be cataloged and processed—but I think it is a small indicator that my confidence has grown. Well, maybe not that my confidence has grown, but that I'm freaking out about big important things, rather than small cosmetic things.

That's progress, right?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy fun facts. For student orientations, I actually went into our databases and estimated how long the full text journals would stretch if arranged in a continuous line. Its one thing to say we have 6500 full text journals - its another to say they'd stretch 10 miles to the nearest city if lined up. I like your linear feet - even if they do need orthodics.