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Making a case

So. Libraries, of course, are different, one to another, which makes working in them interesting and fun. One difference that I have experienced, myself, is in the special displays.

There’s the open display. The librarians (or clerks or interns) have come up with a good-sized list from the collection, pulled about half from the shelves to arrange attractively on a table or two, and are hoping to catch the eye of the patron, encourage the patron to flip through the books and choose one or two to borrow. If you have done it right, after a day or two, the table is looking a trifle sparse, and you supplement from the rest of the list, continuing to do so for the duration of the display, possibly a month. The idea here is to move product, to put it crassly; get the patrons to take stuff out that they would not otherwise look at twice.

The closed display has a different purpose: it is showing off the collection. A case with books by local authors, or at an education institution, by the faculty. Or a display of some valuable old editions, or some books with pretty illustrations, or the original two dozen volumes donated by the founder. If the library is also an archive, the displays may be of letters and photographs, manuscripts and memorabilia. The point is not to encourage people to take these things out. Even when the stuff in the case is ordinarily circulating, for the duration of the display, we want the books to stay in the case. If a patron takes one out, the display is incomplete.

So, from a circulation point of view, we want the books in a closed display to show up in the catalogue as unavailable, and we want the books in an open display to show up as available but not in their usual place on the shelf. Very simple. Both kinds of displays are good—I have spent many happy hours peering into cases at Mugar, Lamont and the BPL. And I have picked up books off displays in the Mission Branch and the Williamsburg Library that I would never have found on the shelf. So I am good with displays. I want to emphasize that I like library displays, and that I am not, by nature, a gripy person.

But it does make me cross that we have, to commemorate and celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the library that employs me, just taken two dozen of the best books about the Civil Rights Movement in our collection, marked them unavailable for borrowing and locked them in a case where nobody can read them.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


The closed display seems weird to me. Showing off the collection? Ok, I guess that's sort of good, but in fact the point of a library (IMHO) isn't to have an awesome collection, it's to have an awesome collection that people actually use.

Could you combine these somehow, e.g. by displaying a color photocopy of the cover of each book, rather than the book itself? (This could then be an open display, where readers could take the book but leave the photocopy; or a closed display, where readers could see the cover image, and then go pull the book off the shelves.)

Irilyth - The closed displays we have at my library have a separate purpose - usually they have private possessions in them as well as library books. So for instance, if a local basket-weaving group puts together a display of things they're making or have made, we also put some books on basket-weaving in. Though sometimes we put the books outside the locked part so people can access them.

I think I've seen libraries use the color photocopy idea though, and I think it works nicely.

Yes, I wasn't clear: what really calls for a closed case are non-circulating materials owned (or perhaps borrowed) by the library. These may well be mixed with circulating materials, which are set aside for the duration of the display; the photocopy trick is worth thinking about in those situations, although of course the replica isn't the thing. Often it isn't the cover of the book that is being displayed in a closed case, but something from the interior—a manuscript poem set next to the published version, f'r'ex, in which case a copy would have all the information but lose some of the visual punch. Or, for another example, there was a display from the archives with photographs and programs from a production of Hansel and Gretel by the Performing Arts school at our institution; it would have been nice (imao) to beef that up with the score (or a couple of parts thereof) and a couple of illustrated retellings.

What gets up my nose is when we do the closed display consisting of nothing but circulating books that are taken out of circulation for the display. We did it for Banned Books Week, too—which had the effect of banning the books for the week, as far as anyone reading them went.


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