Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Busman's Holiday: Or My Scattershot Review of Some Other Clerk's Library: St. Anthony Park, St. Paul

From time to time, traveling about the world, I will review other libraries. What fun! On the downside I'm not going to be thorough and in depth. It'll be more of a what-I-happen-to-encounter, tip-of-the-iceberg review, so, perhaps, not fully representative. On the plus side hardly anyone reviews libraries, it's all restaurants, movies, and electronics, so this is better than nothing. Also, I'm knowledgeable, having decades of seeing how the sausage is made, so to speak. And sausage is the correct analogy because written knowledge and entertainment is like various unsavory and savory parts of the imagination run through a meat grinder, fillers and herbs are added, and it is then encased in book covers.

Okay, onto the review! 

The St. Anthony Park Library in St. Paul, Minnesota.

This is a beautiful, small to almost medium sized Carnegie Library in one of the most charming parts of St. Paul. Long ago I lived near here and have great affection for this library, so I am stunned to find myself giving this library a "D"! A "D", and I'm not even being harsh. It failed virtually every random test I wandered into and it was only its charm and ambiance, and the simple fact that it was open (a surprisingly important measure for library quality), that kept it from getting an "F". How could this beautiful, genteel library possibly do so badly? Let me count the ways.

1. The St. Anthony Park Library has a very pretty double staircase up to the front entrance. Unfortunately the staircase was closed, with a sign on it instructing me to use the side basement entrance. This nice staircase was closed apparently because there was snow on the stairs. Hmm, if only there were some way to remove snow from stairs, like with a bulldozer, or a spoon, or a hairdryer.


Version of me that is actually more snarky than I am to Librarian:
"Do you have any books on shoveling snow off of stairs?"
Librarian: "No, we don't, as the skill is considered too basic to require texts of instruction."

2. The heavy on the nooks quality of the library was just fine, but seemed to cause them to break up their collection into too many pieces. I'm focusing here a bit on the separation of hardcover and paperback, as in one section for mystery paperbacks and one for mystery hardcovers. I find this silly. How often do people come to the library thinking "I want a mystery, not sure what, so long as it's paperback."  It is my contention that people far far more commonly look for a book they might want in the library, and if there are two or more copies, paperback or hardcover, they choose whichever one seems least filthy.

3. I became briefly involved in a search for Agatha Christie books. I know from personal and professional experience that Agatha Christie mysteries have been unceasingly popular since they were written. St. Anthony Park had zero Agatha Christie books (hardcover or paperback, you have to look twice!). I know this is a much smaller library than my own, but still. Today at work I counted the number of Agatha Christie books on our shelf. There were 131 and they looked a bit fewer than normal.

4. This may be or may not be their fault in any way, but, I couldn't find anything I wanted to check out, and I poked around for a good while.

5. Observed this: Patron went to nice big open comfy counter where it looked quite like you would go to get help. Staff, seated back and sideways from the counter took a fair bit of time to acknowledge patron. When she did she said she would help person at third location, where the two of them then convened.

6. Observed this (continued): Same patron did not have their card with them, but was registered in their system and wanted to check out 3 items. They had a picture I.D. They were told emphatically that they could not check out without their card. All the other stuff we discussed here is a bit of fun and games and may or may not be so bad, but this is so wildly in the familiar but horrifying "This would be a great library if only the patrons weren't always coming around" camp that it makes my little clerk brain reel. I promise you there is no good reason for a policy like this and if your Library Board, Library Director, and or Branch Manager has settled on such a policy your number one job as a clerk is to subvert and ridicule that policy at every opportunity. Hmm, maybe I'm being too hard on them though. Typing one of these modern, hyphenated names into your database search can be brutal. Maybe we can compromise and they can look people up by name as long as their name has 11 or fewer characters in it, and they don't mind doing a bit of shoveling.
After all, I know how busy staff at a library can get, what with all the people.

edit, update: Sources have informed me there were actually 4 Agatha Christie novels available (not zero). I apologize for the error. On the other hand after shelving today in the Mystery section at my library I counted 154 (up from 131) Agatha Christie books. Not that it's a contest. Cause it isn't, and if I hear that the stairs were useable far patrons with crampons I will definitely be upping the grade here to "D+". Just let me know.

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