Monday, January 15, 2007

I'm just a barcodin' fool

Although I always sort of kind of regret it when the alarm goes off at 5:30 in the morning, I really do enjoy working on these Monday holidays. The subway is nice and empty and yet still runs reasonably on time, the lines at the Dunkin' Donuts are short, and since we don't have a Depository delivery the desk is fairly quiet unless we get a bevy of visiting researchers trying to take advantage of the rare day off from their own regularly paying jobs as faculty, students, or whatever it is that independent scholars do when they're not writing the next monograph. As it turned out this morning, we didn't get so much as one book page request through lunchtime, nor did we have to retrieve any material from the Cage for Harvard ID holders.

(Yes, we have a Cage. Where else are you going to lock up your problem patrons and/or student werewolves? Okay, just kidding about the problem patrons...)

What we did have, however, was about an entire book truck piled with returns consisting of items without barcodes. Most of these are volumes of periodicals or monographic series, both of which escaped the purview of our "Smart Barcoding Project" (our most recent attempt to get the majority of our holdings online and trackable down to the item level). So when a visiting researcher either pages these things or a Harvard patron asks to have one of them put on hold in the room, it falls on our shoulders to barcode the thing before re-releasing it back into the wild that is the Widener Stacks.

Most of the time we're only dealing with one or two volumes here and there, so my students and staff can fill out a barcode form and I'll generate the item record for it the next morning or thereabouts, but in the case of large amounts of books -- say, an entire run of an obscure 19th century serial -- I'll let the desk workers skip filling out form and just catch the books when they finally get returned. Even though we may lose a little bit of transparency by doing so, this way we can prevent tying up desk workers with filling out dozens of little yellow forms and get the material to our visiting researchers as soon as humanly possible. Besides, most of these items can't leave the Reading Room, let alone the library, so if an emergency arises and we need to locate these materials in a pinch they're not going to have gotten too far away from our Tracing staff.

This morning a couple of visiting researchers' primary source materials were coming off the Hold Shelf, which is why I ended up getting swamped with unbarcoded returns. Thus far I've been able to knock out one of the series, but I'm afraid that the other one may have to wait for tomorrow or later in the week, as not only does it have extremely irregular enumeration (not to mention mostly unhelpful data printed on their spines), but many of the items are experiencing some serious red rot as well and are in generally poor condition overall. So I had better remind myself not to wear light-colored clothing this week!

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