Making a case
13 January 2011, 3:28 PM
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,