Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No fault in the stars

We'll start with our small, inconsequential story, fresh from the front desk, and see if it leads to any valuable life, or library, lessons.

An older woman, walking with the assistance of a cane, approaches me at the front desk. "Perhaps I should have asked about this upstairs" She begins "But there are supposed to be three copies of The Boleyn Inheritance on the shelf. There isn't even one up there!"

"That is odd." I say. I do not say that it is odd enough that I can safely put it at a more than 99 percent likelihood that this is due to her error. "I'll look it up." I add, and I search the catalog. There are indeed three copies of The Boleyn Inheritance that should be on the shelf. I tell her that so far I am finding what she has found. "I could go take a look and see if I can find you a copy." I say, eying her infirmities and fancying a medium length jog in our largish library to put the matter to rest.


I jog upstairs, pass the just ever so little bit slightly curious reference librarians, and go to "G" in fiction, as in "Gregory" as in "Gregory, Philippa" the author of The Boleyn Inheritance. On the bottom shelf, nestled happily together, as if for warmth, are three copies of the book in question. I pull the nicest of the three, and I dash back downstairs.

"They were there." I tell the lady. "But they were on the bottom shelf. It might have looked like the second to the last shelf was the end of the Gregorys. I just need your card and I can check it out to you."

"Oh, no." The woman says. "I'm leaving. I had just wanted to read it in the library."

She leaves.

Which suddenly reminds me of another very recent story. I am informed that one of the Men's Room stall toilets is horribly clogged up and overflowing. I seek out the people whose job it is to deal with this sort of thing. They are not enthusiastic. In the end I resolve that the simplest thing will be for me to personally assess and go from there. One toilet stall is fine. One toilet stall is maybe a little backed up. I try an exploratory flush. We are almost there. One more flush and the toilet is cleared. The job is done.

This reminded me not of another story, but of a fact to be noticed. More than half the time when people bring some issue to me at the desk, a story about a problem, or a flaw with our library, they are wrong. The fault is not in the stars, and we, the library, are the stars. They don't know how things work, why they work that way, or the kinds of mistakes that they themselves are prone to. But they are good at coming to all sorts of conclusions. It is stolen, or it is broken, or it is unjust.

Well, sometimes it is. But I suggest that you be thrice as thorough when you examine an unfamiliar error in a system you do not know well. And be humble about it when you bring it to the front desk. Should you skip being helpful and telling me about these things you might wrong about? No, no, it's all part of what I'm here for. I'm glad to see you, and I often enjoy a little jog.


  1. I'm a big fan of that lady. I wonder if it was just her way of having fun. I wonder if she goes from library to library pulling little practical jokes like that.

    I had a similar event, but it was me who didn't get it, tho I still don't quite know whether it was something I missed or not. I went to local branch to get Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. I went to fiction, scoured around, looked in catalogue, etc. Finally I went to clerk who said it was in the New Titles section! I never bothered to see whether and how that was indicated in computer, but I imagine it must be. Maybe something like NT listed next to call number? It's a small library so it only meant a 5-10 second walk.

    1. Hello Grapes! I have researched your local library and its catalog. Your guess is basically correct, though these statuses function with a slight difference from my own system. In my system if you search a title, and go to the listing of all the titles in the system, it will show the status of each individual copy as, variously: checked in, checked out, new books, browsing, etc. and you will have the clue as to where is should be. In your system it shows the status (like mine) as checked in, checked out, shelving cart, etc, but also, to the left, it shows the collection each title belongs to. One of the collections in your system is New Books, so if you find a copy of Life after Life that says it is checked in at your branch, but is part of the New Books collection, then you must go there to find it, as, apparently you did. Your library system curiously uses a lot of different collection names, including "New Books" "Adult New Book Shelf" and even "New Books-Mcnaughton Collection" But, presumably all of these would be reasonably decipherable in the library. Of course, the clerk who helped you could have explained a brief version of all this to you, but I will not fault him or her as he or she might have been reading you as just keen to move along and get the book you wanted and not interested in any lessons. Their success as a clerk is somewhat contingent upon how true that was.


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