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What'd I do?

So. I wouldn’t say that the relationship between library staff and library patron is intrinsically or inherently in conflict. Well, some days I would say it. Certainly, there are many things that would be much easier if the patrons were not to come in to the library at all. Still, we are in service, we are attempting to help people, if only they would let us.

I’m not going to quote the conversation in its entirety, nor attempt to get as close to the wording as possible. It went more or less like this: a student had come in to the academic library that employs me. He had call numbers on a sheet of paper, and was looking for those books. When wandering through the stacks like a little lost lamb, he obtained the help of one of our student workers, who was able to point out to him that one of the books in question was oversized, and was therefore shelved with the oversized books. The other was not at its proper location.

When the fellow came to check out the book he was helped to locate, he asked (very naturally) about the other one: why wasn’t it on the shelf? I asked when he had looked it up in our catalogue (because if he had looked it up a week or two ago, it might certainly have been checked out), and it turned out that he had not looked them up, he had been given the call numbers by a friendly professor. So nice. Well, I showed him how to look up the book, and it turned out that the book was listed as available. This does happen, more often that we would like, that a book goes missing.

The student seemed surprised, however, because (he said) he had used the book only a few days ago. Oh? I checked our shelving area, our carts, but to no avail. I asked what he did with the book when he was done. And he said (no points for guessing, librarians among y’all) that he had put it back on the shelf where he had taken it from.

Oh, oh, oh.

Oh, oh, oh.

Well, now what do we do? I mean, yes, we checked to make sure the book is not, in fact, where it should be, nor is it just below or just above, or the shelf behind or the shelf in front. It ain’t there. Whatever this sonofagun did with the book, he did not put it back on the shelf where he got it. And now the library owns a book, and it’s somewhere in the building, almost certainly on one of our shelves, and we don’t know where.

We’re going to have to mark the book missing in our catalogue. I mean, it is missing, and frankly, I doubt we will see it again until next summer. It’s possible, of course, that someone will come across it whilst shelving, recognize that it is out of place and bring it down. But it isn’t terribly likely. We could send up students to scour the whole section (hoping that it isn’t out of the section entirely), but that’s going to be a whole lot of hours not doing anything else, and we’re getting to the end of the summer already. And in the meantime, anyway, we don’t want people getting the mistaken impression that the book is actually available, when it is not practically available, even though it is here somewhere.

It would have been so much easier if the guy had just thrown the book in the toilet.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


That would be Pet Peeve Number Seven (or so). At least my current library's catalogue doesn't label books which are theoretically in the building as "on the shelf". (The reference staff at that particular library
mutinied. I imagine the circ staff did as well.)

You don't have RFID tags on the books and on the shelves that alert you if a book is on the wrong shelf? Or a shock collar system to use on your patrons?

The good news is that the book turned up. I think the poor sap must have put it somewhere so obviously wrong that one of us spotted that it was out of place just from walking past it, and brought it down to circ for us do take care of. Or, I suppose, it's possible that although he said he put it back on the shelf where he got it (wrong! wrong! wrong!), what he did was stick it on one of the carts set conveniently nearby for that purpose.

The bad news is that the Bursar's office doesn't let us use the shock collar controls.


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