Wednesday, December 27, 2006

So much for my master plan

When I originally decided to work between the holidays, I made sure I'd have enough coverage to permit me to work "off-desk" for at least half of the week so that I could finally tackle a couple of projects I've been chipping away at during my down time -- some policy stuff, such as exploring the possibility of turning our desk into a full-blown Reserves desk for rare and noncirculating materials, and finally assembling all of my emails about existing procedures into a searchable online archive using our new iSite capabilities. Then my number two staff member called in sick, and I've been tethered to the desk all day today as a result, with the distinct possibility that tomorrow will be the same drill.

It's not that I dislike working the desk in the slightest -- on the contrary, it's the public services nature of the job that I find so enjoyable and energizing. But it's very hard to work on large and open-ended projects here at the desk, since it's impossible not to work with one ear open at all times. Being at the desk means committing a significant portion of one's energies to being available at a moment's notice, preferably a moment or two before the patron even is aware of the fact that he or she needs your assistance, and even on a slow day like today it keeps me from doing anything that is sensitive to interruption or which requires me to have more than one window open on the old desktop. Monitoring the email for requests, questions, and communications with the staff is just about the limit of my attention span while on-desk.

And maybe, of course, the occasional blog post as well...

Monday, December 18, 2006

Another cool bookplate

From Eighteen hundred and twelve: or, Napoleon's invasion of Russia. An historical romance, by Ludwig Rellstab (New York, Stringer & Townsend, 1849):

Rules of the Boston Library. Franklin Place.

Not more than THREE volumes shall be taken out at the same time, and no books shall be permitted to be taken or used, but by the owner of a share, or his family.

For the first year after the admissions of a Book, a fine of ten cents is incurred for each library day it may be kept beyond the time limited on the cover; and, after the first year, of five cents per library day, if detained beyond five weeks; -- for abuse of Books, the value thereof when new. If any Book be lost, the same must be placed by a similar volume, or by paying the current price of a new volume: if it be part of a set, the remaineder must be tkane, paying the current price of a new set.

THREE DOLLARS assessment must be paid previous to the delivery of any Book, after the annual meeting.

All books must be returned to the Library, for inspection, on the Saturday previous to the annual meeting, which is always on the second Friday of May; the fine for noncompliance is one dollar.

Books must be called for by their numbers, and not by their titles.

The LIBRARY is opened every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons, from 3 to 6 in summwer, and 3 to 5 in winter; -- also, every Saturday forenoon, from 10 to 1 o'cl'k.

No person shall be allowed to go within the railing, or to take down any Book, without the written permission of two Trustees.

The present price of a share is 25 dollars.

Behold my mighty book fort!

As the semester winds down, you'll inevitably have a day when a whole boatload of books are coming off your hold shelves. Today was that sort of day. Now here in the Reading Room we have two kinds of hold shelves: one for non-circulating items which have not yet been picked up by the patrons who ordered them from remote storage, and another shelf which patrons can check materials out to in order to consult for extended periods of time -- like having a study carrel, only in the reading room itself.

While some mornings I will do the weeding for the former hold shelf, I usually prefer weeding the latter on account of the fact that it gives me a chance to do a little cleanup as I go. Whereas our internal hold shelf is touched only by staff, the other is open to patrons, so there's often a lot of creative filing being done during the day by those with no respect for alphabetical order. In order to preserve the privacy of patrons using the hold shelf, we file their books by initials only, and shelve them spine-down in the room so as to discourage browsing.

For some reason the "last initial first" system of filing bewilders more people than I would have expected, and although it is clear that we prefer that the books be shelved spine-down every morning I have to reorient a goodly percentage of them which have been turned upright by the patron for their own convenience. But that's not nearly as bad as those who shelve rare or non-circulating materials spine-up, putting all sorts of undue stress on what's left of the binding as gravity pulls the freehanging text block downward. I wish we could put flags in the books when patrons do things like this:

"Shelving books spine-up makes Melville Dewey cry!"

Of course I should talk, as when I take tons of books off the shelves as I did this morning I have little choice but to pile materials up in a precarious wall of books, some of which would scarcely survive a fall were my impromptu book fort to come crashing down all of a sudden. The worst is when someone from our Preservation department comes up to drop something off or ask me a question, only to find me peering out from behind the Great Wall of Books™. While bookquakes are in fact quite uncommon -- librarians I believe have a sixth sense for such things as stacking books so as to minimize the chance of toppling -- I always live in fear of aiding and abetting the high crime of bibliocide.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Or not

Okay, today is statistics day. No, really, I swear!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Shooting down the helicopter parent

I've heard a lot about these so-called "helicopter parents" in the media, but strangely enough although I work in public services I had yet to encounter one of these people who are unnaturally involved in the minutiae of their children's education until this afternoon, when a parent attempted to order an item from remote storage on behalf of her daughter. Unaware of the fact that we have extremely tight restrictions on who can pick materials up for whom and who is authorized to make requests for library materials on another's behalf, the parent and I got into a fairly Abbott and Costello routine about policy and procedures until she realized that she was better off telling her daughter to order the item from the Depository herself (which she was).

Fortunately this parent seemed in reasonably good humor about the whole thing, but I can see from a service point of view how things could degenerate fairly quickly, to the tune of "I pay so-and-so's tuition, so I think I can damned well order her books for her." I wonder if this is the tip of the iceberg?

Today is a good day to count tiny slips of paper

I love statistics, but I hate gathering them. From hash-marks on a calendar to counting hold slips and carbon copies of request forms, ever since I took over the Reading Room the first day of the month has become invested with a feeling of dread, as this is the day when I must (on top of everything else I'm doing) cull the stats from all our various bins, binders, and doo-dads taped to the desk.

Counting them often takes another week or so -- longer if it's a particularly busy time of the year, as the run-up to the holidays inevitably is at any university. While I try to give myself at least a couple of hours away from the public desk so that I can attend to such matters, recently my afternoons have been taken up by other departmental concerns, with the result that it's taken me ten days to sit down and crunch these blasted statistics.

Part of the problem, of course, is the manner in which the stats are originally collected. Too many historical processes have lead to all of these physical forms of tabulation which are not easily replaced with a digital equivalent. I have done my best to replace unnecessary paper files, but there is a certain critical threshold beyond which I would require significant outside assistance in order to get rid of some of the more outdated methods of statistics-gathering.

Fortunately, the new supervisor seems not only willing to help, but capable of doing so as well. So perhaps my days of counting little slips of paper are numbered! A man with too many paper cuts on his fingers can only hope...