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Bookless in Stanford
July 8, 2010 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Stanford's library was running out of space for printed books and journals, so they've built a new space ... with even less room for printed titles and issues. It's hastening the move to a digital library. NPR reports.
posted by anothermug (75 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related: The University of Chicago is building a library using an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. In short, a robot library.
posted by phunniemee at 4:27 PM on July 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Part of me cries when I see stories like this.

Without doing into too much detail, I worked in a school district that had a high school with a huge library (as in space, not books). The shelves were nearly bare.

The had an anti-librarian (I think they called them Media Specialists) that regularly combed through book stats and parted with books that hadn't been checked out in a certain number of years.

One day I walked in, saw kids making collages out of National Geographic and other magazines. I was aghast. It took me a while to find out this was an authorized activity. They were trashing the mags because they had them on DVD now.

This library was desolation. It was an open space made to taunt you with what it could have been.

I think I've mentioned this part of the story before, but they wanted to do a display of high school grads done good, so they were going to do a Neal Stephenson window set up...and they had to borrow the books from a student!

I took a manager of our local bookstore to work one day (he was just a friend and former coworker along for the ride). He asks, "What's this?" I told him it was the library. "Where's the books?"

I look forward to the day when I have to teach kids how to turn a page.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:29 PM on July 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


This is not that surprising. Fielder Library, the Engineering library at Kansas State University, was built in 2004 and had roughly one quarter height bookshelf, a dozen tables and a few dozen computer stations. They called it an electronic library, which I didn't really understand at the time. IEEE granted the entire KSU IP range access, so it's no more special in that regard than any other computer lab. It was not, however, "desolation," but a place that's packed all day.

Here's my thinking about libraries: every journal and book sitting on a shelf is wasted space. It's inventory not in someone's hands, being read. A library's shrinking shelf space should be an indication that it's collection is worth something to it's patrons, and the Netflix-ification of the place should be a good thing. I mean really, do we think Chilton repair manuals for 1980s Ford models is worth having on hand, or building codes from 1990? I don't yet adore the ebook idea, but it works fine for journals and other things one could feasibly print if necessary.

On the other hand, it's pretty annoying to see the local libraries turned into day care centers and free WoW gaming stations.
posted by pwnguin at 4:56 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not that I don't empathize with the subject, but we're generally not all that happy with single link news posts framed in an opinionated way, no?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:00 PM on July 8, 2010


.
posted by DU at 5:02 PM on July 8, 2010


"I mean really, do we think Chilton repair manuals for 1980s Ford models is worth having on hand, or building codes from 1990?"

It's certainly useful for them to be on hand somewhere. And the problem is that if everyone says "We don't need it on hand." It might disappear entirely.

I recently was doing some research on wedding ceremonies in he 1800's, which made etiquette books from the 1800's useful (even though you wouldn't look at them for how to behave nowadays.)

Clearly you want to have the latest first aid manuals, but you need the old ones too somewhere because someone's going to want to write an article on the history of first aid practice.
posted by Jahaza at 5:07 PM on July 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I returned to my small liberal arts school a few years after graduation. The library had become a computer lab. There were maybe 1/10th the stacks that were once available.

., yo
posted by GilloD at 5:11 PM on July 8, 2010


This story is about the digitization of a specialized library that has high content turn-over, which makes sense to me. The archivist in me loves being surrounded by old books' but the idea of churning out new editions of hefty manuals every year makes the environmentalist in me kick the archivist in me. Also, being able to search for a phrase in a 300 page book is wonderful.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


...the Netflix-ification of the place should be a good thing.

A Stephen Fry interview made it to the Blue a couple of days ago. One thing he said struck me:
And I always thought...Netflix...should send you a DVD the exact opposite to the kind that you like, last the way you looked. Amazon [would say,] “I see you liked this novel by this novelist; why not try this?”
We do sacrifice more than sentiment when we distill the open stacks to a lowest common denominator collection and move everything else behind an on-demand wall. With browsing impossible, we lose the element of surprise in study, the valuable pleasure of discovering, en route to what we thought we wanted, that idea that we did not know we needed because we did not know it existed.
posted by Iridic at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


As a PhD student I would be thrilled if all books were available electronically. As it stands I often search the collection for a specific book I need to read and have to write down the call number and find some time to walk across campus. Except every now and then I see those magic words: "Available online". I click and it gives me an electronic version. Sure it's locked down with DRM and I would prefer a pdf, but who cares. If done properly this is easier and way more efficient than the old way.

Books, like other information media (CDs, records), have two benefits. First, to transfer information to the reader. Second, to derive some pleasure from the tactile experience of reading. You can and should fight to preserve the book for recreational reading, but keep in mind that academic libraries are overwhelmingly concerned with the first function. Few people searching out a volume in an academic library are interested in the joy of flipping pages. Instead they need to find out what author X says about topic Y so they can include it in their current paper discussing topic Y.

Hey, you know what you can do with an electronic book that you can't do with a regular book? FULLTEXT SEARCH! Man, the future is great.

The one reason to keep books around is for ease of reading. Some people haven't found a way to read electronically that works for them as well as reading on paper. (For me, getting a big monitor was the key.) But e-readers are continuing to improve and this will become less and less of an issue over time.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related: The University of Chicago is building a library using an Automated Storage and Retrieval System. In short, a robot library.

P.S. My school has one of these. It's pretty badass.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:43 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Somewhere, out there, a historian of technology is bewailing the disappearance of outdated repair manuals.

More to the point, switching to all-electronic text databases is pretty much impossible for many smaller institutions. Mine, for example. We can't afford them! And while GoogleBooks has been a lifesaver for me, it also reduces me to conniption fits on a regular basis. Books missing pages; books with distorted pages; the sheer misery that is snippet view; search errors brought on by the vagaries of nineteenth-century stereotyping; and, last but certainly not least, periodicals with erroneous or absent metadata. (My most recent adventure involved a twentieth-century periodical: GoogleBooks kindly told me the page number, but not the issue number, and it's not altogether clear that the year is right.)
posted by thomas j wise at 5:46 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


As a PhD student I would be thrilled if all books were available electronically.

I want all books to be physical AND grepable (en masse even).
posted by DU at 5:47 PM on July 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


My University library is a Federal Book Depository, so as I understand it, they receive a copy of every Federal publication and most new book registered as copyrighted. They recently expanded their computer lab "media centers," which so far, have not reduced the stacks. However, I went through the huge media center the other day, every single computer was signed on to Facebook. I went upstairs to the stacks, where I had spent many hours in the study carrels with piles of books. Hell, in my college days, I spent many hours searching for an empty carrel to study in. But now they are all empty.

Right across the street from my house, my town just built a fancy new library. It cost millions. I have been going in to search for books, and I am appalled to note that it hardly has ANY books, but it has dozens of new computers. I have been looking for a place to donate my huge library of excess art books, I noted they had almost no holdings of basic art textbooks or anything covering individual artists. These are quality books, my mom bought an entire library of books from a retiring art professor and I inherited them, they're far more than I can use, so I want to put them to good use. I estimate I have about 1000lbs of books to donate, boxes and boxes full.

I talked to the librarian, and offered her a donation of my books. They have plenty of room for them, their stacks are mostly empty. She said that donated books are sold and they use the money for their general fund. I said my offer was contingent on the books being placed in the stacks. She refused my offer. Now what the hell is happening to this world, when librarians don't want books?!?
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:52 PM on July 8, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't understand why libraries aren't expanding? Surely there are more books in existence now than there ever have been?
posted by doublehappy at 6:16 PM on July 8, 2010


Nicholson Baker has published several essays lamenting the discarding of books and card catalogs by libraries.
posted by neuron at 6:17 PM on July 8, 2010


Earlier this year I went to my public library to look something up in a book that I reference occasionally and had checked out once about 10 years ago. It wasn't there and wasn't in the catalog. I asked the reference librarian to look it up and it had been completely purged from the system without a trace. Naturally it's out of print and used copies are listed to sell for over $150.
posted by neuron at 6:19 PM on July 8, 2010


Missing from NPR's story and from the Stanford Engineering Library's website: what will happen [has happened?] to the weeded books. Can I get my hands on them?
posted by neuron at 6:20 PM on July 8, 2010


When I was in college the engineering library had early 80s copies of BYTE magazine on microfiche, it was pretty cool looking at the older articles. I had to go page by page on the machine, now they could have all searchable (and in color) and I don't even have to leave my house. I think that's progress.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:22 PM on July 8, 2010


Will our grandchildren's children talk about the tragedy of the reformatting of the hard disk of Alexandria?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:23 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


An electronics-intensive library works reasonably well in Engineering and the sciences because the basic unit of research is the journal article -- their relatively short length lend themselves to printing out or (increasingly, although not as increasingly as proponents seem to think) reading from a screen. It works significantly less well in the Humanities, where the lengthy monograph is the unit, and there is significantly less money to spur the digitization of older material (yeah, yeah, Google Books -- have you seen the scan quality of some of that stuff especially older humanities material? not that encouraging). So, this might work, especially with an Engineering program willing to throw a lot of money at it -- after all, Stanford has essentially paid twice for all of those journals, and the ongoing cost of the collection, assuming patterns hold, will double every 7 years -- but it is hardly a significant step toward the entirely online library world.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:23 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm going to go with the luddites, on this one. The problem with digital collections is that it puts the library holdings at the mercy of two things: 1) the technology to read the digital material and 2) the goodwill of the rights-holder of the digital material.

I've worked in several libraries where the vendor changed hands, only to have an entire range of journals simply disappear from the holdings as a result. The problem with digital information is that you never simply *own* it -- you just keep leasing it, year after year. And it can simply vanish like a bubble.

In academic and specialty libraries, more is good, and more arcane is better: no institution is going to keep paying for access to a journal or an e-text that no-one's checked out for fifty years. But speaking as someone who frequently pulls arcane, unread pieces of criticism from the teens and twenties from storage, there's times when that stuff is pure gold.
posted by jrochest at 6:28 PM on July 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Now what the hell is happening to this world, when librarians don't want books?!?

The Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Libraries site explains the problem: shelving donated books can turn out to be a financial burden on the library.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:34 PM on July 8, 2010


Full-text search is great, and it would be cool if everything were available digitally, but it just isn't yet, and a lot of special interest stuff may never be. I'm for digitizing and keeping hard copies.
posted by snofoam at 6:47 PM on July 8, 2010


Full-text search is great

Well, yeah, if everyone calls what you are looking for exactly the same thing. Which, even in the sciences, is not true -- you can easily have eight to a dozen legitimate names for a chemical compound, especially when you take into account language issues. Without indexing, you either have to create an irritatingly thorough search string (which is done by approximately 0% of all researchers) or reconcile yourself to missing great swaths of the literature (again, especially foreign-language material). Full-text searching is nice, but hardly what a serious researcher needs.
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Libraries site explains the problem: shelving donated books can turn out to be a financial burden on the library.

Ah yes, what a burden. I wouldn't offer junk as a donation, this is good stuff. And to be blunt, this library is so short on books, almost anything would be useful. They spent millions on a new building but nothing on acquiring new books. The old library's collection barely fills a quarter of the new building.

Donations are reviewed at the branch level and may be selectively added to our collection. Factors considered for addition are content, condition, currency, relevance, collection need and space.

Condition: excellent, although some books have the previous owner's name written inside the cover with a big black marker. Content: the history of art through all ages. Currency: these books are used in college level courses today, the artworks haven't changed since the books were published. Relevance: art history is always relevant. Collection need: they don't have ANY art history books. Space: tons of shelf space available.

Please be aware that there is a financial burden for the library to add donated items to the collection. These costs include: evaluation, data entry, accounting, cataloging, processing and distribution. In some cases these costs may exceed the cost of the item being donated.

Right. Most of these books would cost over $100 to purchase, some are out of print classics and might be very expensive. But I cannot see how librarians might consider the acquisition, cataloguing and shelving of books to be a burden. Come on, this is their mission. But they don't want them so I guess I'll sell them on eBay and keep the money.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:17 PM on July 8, 2010


"They found that the vast majority of the collection hadn't been taken off the shelf in five years."

I hope that isn't true. They can't tell unless the books are checked out. They might have been used hundreds of times for every time they were checked out.

The journals, on the other hand, take up a lot of space and are already PDF'd anyways.
posted by Twang at 7:39 PM on July 8, 2010


Okay, there are many different kinds of libraries. Some libraries are depositories, and therefore storage for the books of the world. What they want to do is collect as much as possible. They are archives. Your high school library, and any undergraduate library largely, does not and really should not serve this function. These are working libraries, designed to have materials on hand for the use of the student body. They collect things based on courses offered, programs supported, what gets put on reserve. They do not collect and store repair manuals.

The library in which I am employed is only 4 years old (the building, anyway), and the stacks are all mobile to make more space. We are full to capacity pretty much every day of the academic year, and the students would be very pleased with us if we killed an entire floor of stacks and set it up for computers and studying. As I understand it, the plans are to eventually do just that.

Our students would far rather have a digital copy of something than a physical copy. They currently have access to more resources right now than they have ever had, even if our physical collection is shrinking.

Working academic libraries are about a lot more than just books.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:40 PM on July 8, 2010


Twang, the dust that settles on the books is a pretty good indicator. :/
posted by Hildegarde at 7:41 PM on July 8, 2010


I've worked in several libraries where the vendor changed hands, only to have an entire range of journals simply disappear from the holdings as a result. The problem with digital information is that you never simply *own* it -- you just keep leasing it, year after year. And it can simply vanish like a bubble.

In Ontario, the universities banded together and demanded a permanent digital copy of the articles they subscribed to. So if we move away from a vendor, we still have copies of everything we bought. You have to fight with the vendor to do it, but you don't have to just lease digital content.
posted by Hildegarde at 7:43 PM on July 8, 2010


"do we think Chilton repair manuals for 1980s Ford models is worth having on hand"

The only reason I visited my local library for many, many years was to photocopy parts of Motor's manuals so I could fix whatever crappy car I was driving at the time.

So, yes. The answer to that question is yes.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 7:49 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the most obvious issues to me about searchable digital archives is the lack of browsing. Browsing is a very interesting phenomenon in information access. Unexpectedly related source material is one of the most organic aspects of library resource use and one I'm loath to see disappear without a digital, well, analog. I'm headed to library school this fall, and will be closely watching this aspect of library and information science.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 8:02 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is one of the issues I am a crank about. We don't keep libraries because of the immediate use of them[1], we keep libraries specifically because it's important to keep knowledge that isn't checked out, or even picked up, for one, two, five, ten, twenty, fifty, one hundred years and longer available for public use. (Public) libraries are a massive multi-generational project; it's a little unnerving to hear people talking about five years as if it's a meaningful amount of time.[2][3]


[1]: (though they are immediately useful and any good library will help their patrons make immediate use of their materials — this is why the addition of computer labs and other social services to libraries is a good thing).
[2]: This is admittedly more about the situations cjorgensen and charlie don't surf describe, rather than the libraries in the original post.
[3]: And, okay, waffling back a bit, I do feel faintly ridiculous about striking an abstract Long Now pose on a site where there are so many people with deep, actual, concrete knowledge of how libraries work.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:10 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


But I cannot see how librarians might consider the acquisition, cataloguing and shelving of books to be a burden. Come on, this is their mission.

It's a burden because you're trying to give them extra work to do, on top of their actual work. I used to work in an academic library; we got all kinds of gifts, ranging from professor's collections of rare, field specific items to people's copies of 1984 from high school. The thing that all of these gifts brought was new work for everyone in the department to do, beyond the day to day business of ordering and processing new books. Specifically, a bibliographer had to look at them and decide whether we wanted them or not, a process that invariable was the last item they got around to, after all their other work was finished, meaning that there were gifts that spent literally years languishing for someone to come look at them.

I get that you think you books are great, and the librarians might even agree(they might not, since a public library's mission might legitimately not include stocking college level textbooks), but figuring that out is more work for them, and I'm sure they're already pretty busy. A blanket policy of "gifts are sold" saves them from having to do extra work because you decided you wanted to be helpful.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:26 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hildegarde: "These are working libraries, designed to have materials on hand for the use of the student body. They collect things based on courses offered, programs supported, what gets put on reserve. They do not collect and store repair manuals."

mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: "
The only reason I visited my local library for many, many years was to photocopy parts of Motor's manuals so I could fix whatever crappy car I was driving at the time.

So, yes. The answer to that question is yes.
"

I mentioned auto repair manuals deliberately, because I'm quite familiar with them. First off, they're huge and seemingly in every library I visit. Maybe I just notice odd things, but I know our library carries them to support the Automotive Repair program, so it's definitely a plausible working library pick. Secondly, a lot of manuals are available electronically. I know this because I just updated our repair database last semester from 12 CDs (or DVDs, I can't remember). I'm guessing what happens is that the Repair program donates old manuals to the public library and that the reason I never see newer manuals is because they've switched to electronic records that can't be transferred between institutions.

Plus, they never carry my make or model.
posted by pwnguin at 8:27 PM on July 8, 2010


I wouldn't offer junk as a donation, this is good stuff. And to be blunt, this library is so short on books, almost anything would be useful.

I work in a public library. I see most of our donations. 99% is junk SOMEONE thought wasn't junk. You have no idea how many bad books are out there with racist, sexist, homophobic etc info. Or wrong info, straight out wrong; do you really think a few hundred books repeating the same anti-evolution screed, or advising a diet of 600 calories a day (all from red meat), or a third rate Tv-show novelisation (cancelled after two episodes a decade ago) is something the world needs more of?

Archives serve the important function of preserving materials, public and school libraries are assumed to have some filter for relevancy and quality and using their scarce resources in the most efficient manner.
posted by saucysault at 8:36 PM on July 8, 2010


The article isn't clear as to what happened to those books, but it's likely (if the practice of my old institution was any indication) that the volumes were evaluated and moved to off-site storage.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:39 PM on July 8, 2010


Am I the only one who finds it useful to, looking up a book on the shelves, look at the books nearby? Sometimes they, too, are relevant. And you can take them down from the shelf, flip through, and check them out as well, or make a note of their titles.

JZ Smith's reading rules (see p 37) included skimming the five books to the left and right of any book he looked up on the shelf.

Yeah, it's great not to have to cart around a big book, and to be able to search through the text for a reference you've missed. On the other hand, you can also take notes (!). And if you only check out the things you're specifically referred to, you'll miss out on a lot of stuff.
posted by kenko at 9:36 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


These are working libraries, designed to have materials on hand for the use of the student body. They collect things based on courses offered, programs supported, what gets put on reserve.

Yeah, undergrads never want to do serious research.
posted by kenko at 9:38 PM on July 8, 2010


I work in a public library. I see most of our donations. 99% is junk SOMEONE thought wasn't junk. You have no idea how many bad books are out there with racist, sexist, homophobic etc info. Or wrong info, straight out wrong..

Ok, I'll let you make the call. You are the librarian who makes acquisitions for the city's brand new main library. The library shelves are 75% empty, since the new library is 4 times the size of the old one. You have no art books whatsoever, other than one copy of "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" and one copy of "The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross." No, I am not kidding here.

I walk in to the library and ask if I could donate 2 like-new copies of "Gardner's Art Through The Ages, 6th Edition." This book has been the bible of art history since the first edition in 1926, the 6th edition has nearly 1000 pages and is about 3 inches thick, and is loaded with thousands of photos of the most important works of art throughout world history. The 6th ed. was published in 1976, but still goes for $35 used on Amazon. The current 11th Edition will cost over $150.

I offer you the books on the condition that they go on the shelves, available for the public to check out. If you want to sell them, I won't donate. Will you take one? Or both?

Now this is the minimum level of the books I have. Yes, a few are too obscure, mostly college grad-school level. And I have a few clinkers like "Lives of the Painters vol 1 through 4," but missing vol 3. Oops. But probably 90% of these books are suitable for any public library, for example, I have a 20 volume set of the works of famous artists from Michelangelo through Picasso, with high quality, full color, full page reproductions. Almost no text other than the titles of paintings, just pictures. They are in very good condition, unmarked but with some tears in the paper slipcovers, they've got to be worth $25 apiece, minimum. Will you accept them, again, on the terms that they go on the shelf?

And I've got maybe 10 or 15 other boxes with similar quality of books. I could help you go through them and catalog them, but it's too much for me to do alone. Is it worth your time to acquire maybe $5000 (used value) of general art books? Or would you prefer nothing?
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


This story relates specifically to an engineering collection and is more about a shift *to* (electronic) journals, rather than a shift *away from* (print) books. It's no one's fault that scholarly communication in the sciences is moving away from print, and away from books. This collection is changing to reflect the information/research needs of its users, and that's how the system is supposed to work.

Realistically, the number of up-to-date science/engineering books left to browse is dwindling, other than reference works and textbooks. And you can't browse science journals these days, it makes no sense. Imagine someone doing research on "the tensile strength of nano-ferrets at subzero temperatures" or something, and having to browse thousands of pages from hundreds of volumes of dozens of journals just to serendipitously find articles on the topic? No way. It's like suggesting that someone "merely" browse the internet. This is why databases exist. This is why saved searches, RSS feeds, and citation indexes exist.

That said, it's also not clear from this story what happened to the books. A Stanford librarian posted to one of my listservs today that they're being kept in a high-density offsite storage facility and can be paged for check-out. More info is available here.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:21 PM on July 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


tl;dr: Libraries vary. While their purposes are similar, their collections and services are intended to support very different kinds of communities (e.g. academic, corporate, public, law, music, science, art) and thus can end up looking very different. It's not realistic to expect an engineering library to look and act like a public library.

Also, this is also why engineers still need public libraries.
posted by unknowncommand at 11:46 PM on July 8, 2010


I hope that isn't true. They can't tell unless the books are checked out. They might have been used hundreds of times for every time they were checked out.

There's actually a methodology for determining use of books in the library. For example, you run a campaign asking students never to re-shelve books, and then your library assistants make a note of each book, as you re-shelve it.
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:24 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


For example, you run a campaign asking students never to re-shelve books

So that's why they do that. I always figured it was solely because most people can't shelve accurately.

I'm going to take all my favorites off the shelf at least once a year now and not put them back!
posted by zippy at 1:47 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, undergrads never want to do serious research.

I don't think you know what supporting programs and courses offered means.
posted by Hildegarde at 3:45 AM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is it worth your time to acquire maybe $5000 (used value) of general art books? Or would you prefer nothing?

Chances are that the library you tried to donate the books to has a collection development policy. This sets out who their potential users are and what kinds of resources they're going to target time and money at collecting. If they don't have a great many art books, they probably decided not to have many art books. If you want to change that, express an interest in getting those types of books in the library.

Libraries are generally hesitant to accept donations with conditions because it typically means extra work for already overwhelmed staff. Thus as a general policy most will only take donations with no strings attached. Every person who donates to a library thinks the library would be crazy to not add every single donated book to their collection. To try to sort out the cranks from the genuinely discerning donater is to time consuming for most already stressed librarians.

In other words, I wouldn't feel bad that they turned down your donation and I wouldn't be to upset with them.
posted by nangua at 5:01 AM on July 9, 2010


This book has been the bible of art history since the first edition in 1926, the 6th edition has nearly 1000 pages and is about 3 inches thick, and is loaded with thousands of photos of the most important works of art throughout world history. The 6th ed. was published in 1976, but still goes for $35 used on Amazon.

A quick trip to eBay reveals that you can get a nice old edition of Gardner's for about $9.99. Or, in the case of the seventh edition, .99. AddAll, the search engine for secondhand books, brings up similar results, with even the more recent multivolume editions sometimes going for .99/volume. The sellers who want $30 or more for the book, even a more recent edition, are few and far between.
posted by thomas j wise at 5:20 AM on July 9, 2010


If I understood Standford's argument, they just claimed : We don't need nearly so many books because all our students use library genesis and gigapedia. Btw, people do in-fact browse journals today, they just use arxiv.org rss feeds.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:36 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I worked for quite a while in a library and, to be honest, I have come to the conclusion that public libraries are largely past their sell-by date. The only people who use them with any regularity are children (whose parents use them for free day-care) and elderly women looking for the newest romance novel so they don't have to spend $7.99 for the paperback.

In my opinion, we would be better served by stopping funding of public libraries as they currently exist and instead focus on childrens' libraries. This would make children safer in the library. Community college libraries can replace the non-fiction and classics collections of the public library. As for adult contemporary fiction—good riddance. Public libraries spend a large percentage of their annual budget on flash-in-the-pan novels that will be forgotten the day they fall off the bestseller list. Why should we publicly fund this sort of ephemera?
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:58 AM on July 9, 2010


My boyfriend was in the engineering department at Stanford. He says he checked out one book from them in the 4 years he was there. I think for an engineering library, this is not such a bad thing.

On the other hand, I, with my liberal arts major and thesis to write, checked out over 100 from my own library. And since I was a history of science major, they were all the "useless" ones, too, like old anatomy and medical books.
posted by phunniemee at 6:05 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I get that you think you books are great, and the librarians might even agree(they might not, since a public library's mission might legitimately not include stocking college level textbooks), but figuring that out is more work for them, and I'm sure they're already pretty busy. A blanket policy of "gifts are sold" saves them from having to do extra work because you decided you wanted to be helpful.


A bit of sarcasm there? Have you ever seen a used book dealer go through a box of used books looking for stuff that is worth his time? Decision takes about a split second. If you're accepting books for the annual book sale anyway, is it really that difficult to grab the one percent that is worth keeping? (Surely any library should have at least one book nut who would find this kind of treasure hunt a pleasure rather than a chore.) As to administrative work of adding it to the collection, isn't that already in the job description?

About a year ago, I took out and then misplaced a new book from the library, despaired, finally paid for it. As will happen, I found the book a month later. The library had not replaced it. I offered it back.

They wouldn't take it.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:21 AM on July 9, 2010


I was recently at a conference of university presses and I sat in on a panel given by a couple of librarians about demand driven access. Michael Levine-Clark, Collections Librarian at University of Denver, and Stephen Bosch, Materials Budget, Procurement, and Licensing Librarian of the University of Arizona Library said according to their usage statistics, about one third to one half of what they’ve bought from university presses has been unused in the five years since it was purchased. Denver’s study noted that the total cost of all unused books was almost $19,000,000 in the last ten years when one adds cataloging and shelving costs. They said it while noting the loss of the jobs of many of their colleagues at Harvard and Stanford, in California, Illinois, Kansas, and North Carolina. They said it reluctantly. They told us they could no longer afford to be keepers of the scholarly record. They told us they would instead turn to their patrons for buying decisions. And this is a practice that is poised to be come the norm.

Now, in a lot of ways, this makes sense. But the affects this could have on the institution could be catastrophic. What happens to disciplines that heavily depend on third-party content, like art history, or modern literary studies, where the digital rights to that third-party content (the paintings and poems being referenced) make digital editions either impossible or cost-prohibitive? Can you imagine studying art without having access to the art? What also does this mean to faculty who depend on publication to achieve tenure and promotion? Demand driven access as practiced in Arizona, Stanford, and Colorado aims to cut the number of books those libraries purchase in half. For university presses, that means the number of titles we publish will need to be cut in half. Therefore it means the number of faculty members who get tenure in the humanities and social sciences, for whom book publication is the most significant factor in their P&T portfolio, will also be cut in half.

One of the most significant casualties that I'm forecasting will be a result of this trend is the death of serendipity. The very unique type of discovery that isn't reproduced by netflixy algorithms or text search matches. It's the discovery of the thing you didn't know about. The part you hadn't considered but discovered when browsing. I don't think that's replicated with any of the digital tools or platforms currently available, and I worry that in the name of efficiency and due to the economic environment, we're about to surrender our opportunities to find the things we weren't looking for. If we value the kind of discovery that chance provides, we're going to need places where that can occur. I really don't think that happens quite the same way with digital resources. And I'm very concerned about what that means to the future of scholarship.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:26 AM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I offer you the books on the condition that they go on the shelves, available for the public to check out. If you want to sell them, I won't donate. [...] Will you accept them, again, on the terms that they go on the shelf?

Are you asking them to keep these books on publicly-accessible shelves, for eternity, even if no-one was accessing them?

I can imagine that that could be an inconvenient obligation in 30 or 40 years time - especially for 15 boxes of books.
posted by Mike1024 at 10:44 AM on July 9, 2010


according to their usage statistics, about one third to one half of what they’ve bought from university presses has been unused in the five years since it was purchased. [...] What also does this mean to faculty who depend on publication to achieve tenure and promotion? Demand driven access as practiced in Arizona, Stanford, and Colorado aims to cut the number of books those libraries purchase in half. For university presses, that means the number of titles we publish will need to be cut in half. Therefore it means the number of faculty members who get tenure in the humanities and social sciences, for whom book publication is the most significant factor in their P&T portfolio, will also be cut in half.

Libraries should buy books that no-one uses, so that people judged on number-of-books-published can get jobs?

Wouldn't it make more sense to change the criteria for tenure to focus on the quality of one's contributions, rather than the quantity?
posted by Mike1024 at 10:51 AM on July 9, 2010


I worked for quite a while in a library and, to be honest, I have come to the conclusion that public libraries are largely past their sell-by date. The only people who use them with any regularity are children (whose parents use them for free day-care) and elderly women looking for the newest romance novel so they don't have to spend $7.99 for the paperback.

Hmmm, sounds like you worked for a public library that did a poor job of outreach to large portions of the community. I worked for a public library that got a lot of traffic from across the age spectrum with people checking out everything from car repair manuals, to economics textbooks, to programming instruction books, to, yes, romance novels.

I hear a lot of people say that libraries are past their sell-by date and when I hear them talk about their library experiences it's no wonder. People have under-invested in libraries for years and then are disappointed that the resources available to them through them suck. That's the situation in the city I live in.

I long for the days when I lived in Seattle and had the resources of two great library systems available. It's no wonder that in a city where money is invested in libraries circulation between the two library systems is around 30,000,000 items per year. That's about 15 items per person per year.
posted by nangua at 10:55 AM on July 9, 2010


One other note I haven't seen come up in the discussion - that adding gifts not only requires evaluation time, but also processing time. A sample:

Evaluating: anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes - I might need to check it against the existing catalog, check what the most recent edition was (and what the relevant changes were) and double check how the date of the title fits into the collection policy for currency (which the 6th edition of a book now in the 11th edition might well not.)

Cataloging: Getting a record from an existing copy cataloging resource is a lot faster than doing original cataloging, but it does take between 3 and 5 minutes for most books since you often have to reload screens, etc. Items not in that resource take a fair bit longer.

Labelling: Once you have your cataloging information, creating the spine label is pretty fast in and of itself. Call it a minute to include time to print.

Processing: Typically, books need to be property stamped (fast), and also get protective covering (mylar, reinforcing tape, etc.) Loose hinges might need to be reinforced on a donation. Again, this takes something like a minute to five minutes per book, depending on the book. (Large art books, in particular, are a pain to mylar as the larger mylar widths can be a lot harder to work with.)

And at this point, the item still needs to go out on the shelves - and depending on existing shelving, that might mean moving items around some to make room (especially if you're adding a lot of items in a given section.)

In total, we're looking at somewhere between 6 minutes and 15 minutes per book. No big deal for a single item - but if you start talking a stack of items, that time is going to add up really fast. You're also looking at the cost of supplies - again, relatively small per item (somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar, on average in my experience) but that also adds up.

Compare this to how many libraries get their books from wholesalers, who offer ways to make selection quick and efficient, and who can process the books (except for the final steps) as the library requires - cutting the required time to add an item to two or three minutes (and nothing more in the way of supplies than ink for the property stamp and maybe a pencil.)
posted by modernhypatia at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2010


Libraries should buy books that no-one uses, so that people judged on number-of-books-published can get jobs?

Wouldn't it make more sense to change the criteria for tenure to focus on the quality of one's contributions, rather than the quantity?


To answer that one must consider the nature of the monograph and the trajectory of scholarship. Mendel's work on genetics sat on a library shelf for more than 100 years before its use and applicability in biology finally caught up with it. Good research is seldom recognized as such in the first five years after publication. It usually takes longer than that to have the work fully scrutinized and then often built upon. Scholarship is an ecosystem. And in the case of work that's ahead of it's time, the paradigm I outline above would result in that work never being published. I'm not sure that the tenure system needs to be tied to publication, that's really up to the institutions and professional societies to decide. But popularity isn't the same thing as quality, and usage statistics put the Perez Hiltons of the world before the Mendels.

One must also be careful to scrutinize usage statistics. They measure how often a book is checked out. There are no measurements for how often a book is browsed, or used within the library.
posted by Toekneesan at 11:39 AM on July 9, 2010


About a year ago, I took out and then misplaced a new book from the library, despaired, finally paid for it. As will happen, I found the book a month later. The library had not replaced it. I offered it back.

My university's libraries are a wonderment, but probably because they offer degrees in Library Science. A few years ago, I was moving to a new house, and I found several old library books I'd checked out 20 years ago and never returned, and was charged significant fees. I took them back to three different branches.

At the main branch, they had long since converted away from paper records, but the librarian went into a back room and returned with the original checkout slips I'd signed 20+ years ago. I was astonished and said I couldn't believe they still had the slip after the computer conversion. She said, "we're librarians, we keep everything." She said the book would be returned to circulation and I'd get a credit on my university bill for it. I said I hadn't received a uBill for quite a few years. She said, make sure they have your current address, and after 30 days, you can request them to cut you a check.

At the art library, they didn't have my original slip, but they did find a computer record and took the book back into circulation and credited me.

At the engineering library, they refused to consider my book return. I insisted the main library did it and they should too. It took some wheedling, but they eventually did credit me, but they said the book was obsolete and would be discarded.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:47 AM on July 9, 2010


I grew up with libraries. I mean, from age four on, I spent any time I could in libraries. As a six year old, I'd go with my dad to work (he was professor) and I'd read books in the university stacks. When I cut class in high school, I'd go to the university library and read physics papers. The library was my favorite place to spend an afternoon.

That was mostly before the web.

Now, I use libraries for DVDs, and that's it.

I've tried. I've tried to use them for books and for studying. There are some great libraries in my city, but ...

When I was a kid, once a book was out of print, the library was the only place to find it. They were better stocked than any bookstore I could get to, and better stocked than my pretty extensive collection at home.

Now, Alibris, Amazon, and even Gutenberg put the out of print within reach. I can get every book I want, when I want, at prices that rarely make me pause.

I tried using the local library two years ago as an experiment. I had a task - find the corporate profile of a company. It was pretty simple. The library didn't have either of the common (in my childhood libraries) reference books that I needed. I could have gone on-line, but then I could do that at home.

I wonder honestly whether libraries held such an appeal for me as a child and young adult because I had little money to spend, and libraries gave me free access to the world? Now that I have a little money, libraries don't meet my needs.

I miss libraries, but I don't get much out of libraries anymore, and I miss that even more.
posted by zippy at 12:16 PM on July 9, 2010


Toekneesan: "Mendel's work on genetics sat on a library shelf for more than 100 years before its use and applicability in biology finally caught up with it. Good research is seldom recognized as such in the first five years after publication."

Nobody's arguing for the burning of anything older than 5 years in age. Just digitizing it and using computers to automate search and retrieval, which is not much more than an expansion of an existing technique using microfiche. For example, is cheaply available on the internet. The original print version? Too expensive to let you ever touch.

And in the case of work that's ahead of it's time, the paradigm I outline above would result in that work never being published

The principles you espouse, that scholarly research can take quite some time to be validated or rediscovered, suggests that the printed journal and peer review model is broken. I know these guys who agree with you. And these other guys, who discovered that examining citations was a much better way to search than mere popularity.

Toekneesan: "One must also be careful to scrutinize usage statistics. They measure how often a book is checked out. There are no measurements for how often a book is browsed, or used within the library."

This is precisely why library shelves have notices demanding that you not reshelve books, so they can generate precisely the statistics you claim don't exist. Noncompliance may muddy the data a bit, but it's better than nothing.
posted by pwnguin at 12:21 PM on July 9, 2010


popularity isn't the same thing as quality, and usage statistics put the Perez Hiltons of the world before the Mendels.

Perhaps I wasn't clear - I don't mean to propose that academics should compete against gossip bloggers for tenure.

What I'm saying is: In my field, journal papers are evaluated based on the number of citations they have received, and the impact factor of the journal they're published in. Even with this system, some academics churn out several papers with very similar content. If academics were judged by number of papers published with no consideration of quality, the situation would be even worse; sorting the wheat from the chaff would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. I'll freely admit what we have isn't a perfect system

We want to reward quality of scholarly contribution, not just quantity - and the best way we have to measure quality is the opinions of others within the academy. We want two good ideas in one journal paper, instead of one good idea in a dozen journal papers.

If 50% of books humanities books go unused for 5 years after publication, doesn't that rather suggest that book publication has precisely the problem that quality metrics are supposed to address?
posted by Mike1024 at 12:38 PM on July 9, 2010


I'm aware of reshelving stats, but I wonder about their accuracy and applicability. I think they can, when used, help us to determine some usage. But I suspect they're muddier than we might realize. If you're browsing a section and sampling ten or twenty books, are you going to take that pile to the desk or will you put them into to hole in front of you. Which happens more frequently? And if we're making decisions on what to purchase based on those statistics, we are then making decisions on what will be published based on those same muddy statistics.

I also agree that citations also have a lot to tell us about the authors, but I wonder what it tells us about the scholarship. How often was Mendel cited before Darwin? There are also stats referred to as impact factors. But those have been shown to be easily gamed, especially online.

I also never said anything about burning. I just think that we need to be aware that when Stanford and other libraries start to decide what to shelve and what formats they'll choose based on things like popularity, it has unintended consequences throughout the system. It also changes the library's mission rather fundamentally. And it doesn't bode well for serendipitous discovery.
posted by Toekneesan at 12:47 PM on July 9, 2010


I work in a public library. I see most of our donations. 99% is junk SOMEONE thought wasn't junk.

I once processed three boxes of colorized VHS tapes of I Love Lucy. Nothing in my life has ever approached the feeling of wasted time and energy I got from that.
posted by griphus at 12:53 PM on July 9, 2010


Toekneesan: "How often was Mendel cited before Darwin?"

Google scholar doesn't know of many citations, but that could be because BibTeX wouldn't be invented for another hundred years :)

The oldest I can find is a citation from 1900. My understanding from a recent Public Radio broadcast is that Darwin had Mendel's paper but never read it, and that Mendel's work didn't really take off until another guy championed the work. So much for serendipity!
posted by pwnguin at 1:32 PM on July 9, 2010


Err, it knows of many citations (414!), but few that are that old.
posted by pwnguin at 1:33 PM on July 9, 2010


Really saddens me. I love online, but adore libraries.

First they came from the libraries...
posted by rmm at 2:06 PM on July 9, 2010


btw, I call hyperbole on myself. I thought it was 100 years that Mendel was ignored. I just looked it up. It was more like 50 years. We regret the error.

It still wouldn't have been purchased by Stanford, Denver, or Arizona. Just sayin'.
posted by Toekneesan at 2:35 PM on July 9, 2010


Serendipity is a vital factor in information seeking, and the facilitation of shelf-browsing has been a crucial quality of the library. But an electronic library does not necessarily mean an end to serendipity and browsing. Key word searching can bring its own kind of serendipity. But, more importantly, there is no reason why electronic documents cannot be classified in linear order to facilitate browsing. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the importance of serendipity and browsing. In fact, several newer library catalogue systems do not even allow patrons to access the shelf list which shows all the books in their call number order. Sometimes even the alphabetical lists of authors, titles and subjects are not available. Patrons are thus forced to use only keyword searches. Concealing these lists robs the patrons of access to extremely useful structured tools for browsing and serendipity. This effectively makes the library catalogue into just another brainless search engine, throwing away decades of excellent work.
posted by No Robots at 3:45 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


No Robots: "But, more importantly, there is no reason why electronic documents cannot be classified in linear order to facilitate browsing."

I guess this explains the "nearby on shelf" link on every search result at my public library. But honestly, I hate their catalog software (sirsidynix) and would replace it if I knew how to get through their HR dept.
posted by pwnguin at 4:03 PM on July 9, 2010


Is it worth your time to acquire maybe $5000 (used value) of general art books? Or would you prefer nothing?

I've worked in a public library system where I had responsibility for dealing with donated books. Here are a few thoughts which I hope are relevant...

- when I began, I sounded a lot like you're coming across. I thought all these books were *valuable* and *important* and *worthwhile*. Sad as it may sound, I soon learned that I had to be like the HR manager in a large company looking at a huge stack of resumes. I was looking for reasons to get rid of items *way* more than I was looking for reasons to keep them. By the time I left the job, I was as happy to put a donated book in the recycling bin than to help it find a place in the library.

- the ultimate guideline we had in our collection development policy was items that were published within the last five years and preferably within the last two if we were to accept them. So for an art history book, no matter how important it is, I could make my decision to reject it within ten seconds by turning to the copyright page. If you complained, every single person in the library from the processing clerk to the director would happily back up my decision.

- you mention that some of the books you wished to donate had the owner's name written on the inside cover in marker. That's another automatic disqualification. (I often refused to accept books that still had a bookstore's "30% off" sticker on it because it would take too long to pull it off and scrub away the glue residue left behind.)

- no matter how it may appear to you, if a library doesn't have an art history collection, that doesn't necessarily mean they're being deficient or purposely neglecting an area. That means they've probably learned at some point that these books will *not* get used nearly enough to justify the costs associated with doing all that needs to be done to get them on the shelf (summarized elsewhere.) In my library, we had a very low threshold - we hoped that every book we bought would circulate 10 times in 10 years. That's it. My gut instinct would be that the books you're referring to wouldn't make this threshold.

- I can't remember the stats off the top of my head but something like 70% of my current public library's non-fiction circulation comes from just 3-4 areas - popular culture books, war/history books, cookbooks, self-help/relationship books and maybe one or two others I'm forgetting.

- if it is truly a $100 book as you contend, it appears to be what we would've considered a Reference work - which is another two (and possibly) more strikes against it being added to our collection: 1. expensive /= more valuable; 2. Reference works often had odd or oversized shapes that meant special (eg. inconvenient) shelving requirements and 3. many public libraries are doing away with much or all of their ready reference collections and reference books in the general collection don't circulate well. (To bring it briefly back to the original topic, this is largely due to the impact of digital databases in the reference area.)

- I highly doubt that any qualified library director would spent millions on a new building and forget to leave money to buy books. This was very likely a conscious choice to make the library *more* usable and *increase* circulation of the collection that the library did have in place. There is a movement in public libraries to not try to be warehouses of books, offering every single thing to every possible patron. We refer to it as "just in time" rather than "just in case" collections. So, if someone absolutely needed that art history book, it could be found and brought in via interlibrary loan. It may take a week or two to get it but it could be available. And why do less books create more circulation? You know that helpless feeling you get in the cereal aisle when you look at all the choices? Studies have shown that customers will be much happier, make quicker decisions and even consume more an item when presented with fewer rather than more choices. Same applies in libraries. Shelves that used to be packed 90-95% full were gradually weeded to be 75-80% full. Now I'm seeing more and more libraries aim for 50-60% full - which also leaves lots of room for face-out displays which...also increases circulation.

...and after all that, if you were as persistent with me in demanding we accept some of your art books as you've been in this thread, I might just take one of them to get you off my back. That's the power the Collections Librarian! ;-)
posted by Jaybo at 10:48 PM on July 9, 2010


- the ultimate guideline we had in our collection development policy was items that were published within the last five years and preferably within the last two if we were to accept them. So for an art history book, no matter how important it is, I could make my decision to reject it within ten seconds by turning to the copyright page.

This is utterly ridiculous. For example, one of the most important art history books used in painting classes is "Leonardo on Painting." The current edition was published in 1989, so you wouldn't accept it. Its content is basically unchanged since Leonardo wrote it in the year 1651.

Your criterion would rule out historical books of any type. And that rules out about 50% of all art history books. Interpretations of history may change over time, but the primary historical documents don't.

When I remarked, "..or would you prefer nothing?" I meant, "would you prefer the library to have no art books at all?" Apparently that is your choice, I think that is appalling.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:46 PM on July 9, 2010


Interpretations of history may change over time, but the primary historical documents don't.

Public libraries don't really collect primary historical documents, is the thing, nor books for painting classes. These would more likely be collected by special collections and academic/school libraries, respectively.

Every library can't collect everything. Each has to create policies to focus its efforts where they will most further its mission and most benefit its community. As you've discovered, sometimes these policies come down to individual subjective decisions, and it sucks when it feels like your opinion isn't valued. Unfortunately, this is a consequence of trying to meet the information needs of many hundreds or thousands of people on a budget that offers little surplus of funds or labor.

"would you prefer the library to have no art books at all?"

I would prefer that a library own absolutely everything that I want to read/watch/study/cite/play, but I realize that libraries have to support other people too: people who might not share my interests at the specific level I happen to be interested.

I'll settle for a library that collects resources that are appropriate to its mission (specialized research/study, casual learning, and/or leisure) and user community (me, my neighbors and/or colleagues), and that makes its policies clear to me so I know what to expect. For example, Brooklyn Public does a good job on their policies page explaining what, why, and for whom they collect.

I also would prefer that libraries make it easy for users to suggest books for purchase, as Madison Public does here, for example. This way, they can keep up-to-date about everything that the members of their community want to read/watch/study/cite/play, so they can try their best to serve all of them.
posted by unknowncommand at 7:23 PM on July 12, 2010


Public libraries don't really collect primary historical documents...

Okay... you do realize, don't you, that in the art world, the artworks themselves are the primary historical documents? A reproduction of a Leonardo painting in a 1980s book is the basically the same as a 2010 reproduction.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:59 AM on July 13, 2010


And I hope you realize that in the art history world, paintings aren't the only primary documents. I'm a publisher of art history and we publish quite a few art history primary sources.

You also seem to be mistaking a pile of books with a collection of books. They are not the same. If you feel strongly about this injustice involving your donation, you ought to consider getting an MLS and then reforming how librarians handle donations. Until then, I don't think you have enough information to know if the acceptance of what the public donates is a cost effective way to build a collection.
posted by Toekneesan at 10:38 AM on July 13, 2010


And I hope you realize that in the art history world, paintings aren't the only primary documents.

Oh FFS. First I cite Leonardo's writings as a primary source. Then I cite Leonardo's paintings as a primary source. Then you ask me if I understand paintings are not the only primary sources?

I have maybe a six friends with an MLS degree, I feel like I have one myself, after hearing all their bitching. And after many years dealing with our MLS-laden university library, I can tell you a few of my own. Let me give you a good example.

About 10 years ago, I acquired a set of the complete works of Yukio Mishima, in Japanese editions (all in the exact same format, and in mint condition) from a retiring professor in another state, It would have taken him decades to collect all these books as they were published. I paid him like $20 for this and a bunch of other books, it barely paid for shipping. The Mishima books were about 2 feet of linear space, IIRC about 40 books. This would be a gold mine for any Japanese Lit student, and also for our International Writer's Program, which often hosts Akutagawa Prize winners. The IWW is a very prestigious position for a Japanese author.

I wanted to donate these books to the main University library, but I thought first I should check the library's Mishima holdings to see if they had this covered already. I found fairly extensive Japanese lit editions generally, plus some scattered Mishima books. I thought I better investigate further, since I knew it was difficult for the university to index and catalog books in such a foreign language. Fortunately, a Japanese friend of mine was doing his MLS and would love to spend a few hours indexing these books.

So I headed up to the stacks. I could not locate the section with the call numbers for any of the J Lit books I found in the online card catalog. I asked a librarian to assist me. We searched and searched, but could not find the section. She called a senior librarian. We searched again. She finally located where the section SHOULD have been, we found the call numbers before and after it, but nothing in that entire section. She was puzzled, and said she would have to look into this. It turned out that this entire section of books was temporarily moved during some repositioning of stacks, but somehow had never been put back. We had a flood and some libraries' collections were taken from the first floor and put up to higher floors, it was a mess, and whole library sections got moved around. But now, nobody could figure out where the entire Japanese Literature section went. Hundreds, maybe thousands of books were missing.

I spoke to the senior librarian about my donation of the Mishima books. She said she'd be glad to have them, but she wasn't sure where to put them in the stacks, since the whole section was missing. I have no idea if they ever made it to the stacks, I think I'll go over and check to see if the J Lit section was ever found.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:54 AM on July 13, 2010


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