Sunday, November 23, 2008

Library Memories: The Well of Lost Books

Has this ever happened: you go to the library for a specific book and, although the system says the book is there, no one can find it? Sound familiar? You've probably even wondered what happened to the book. Computer glitch? Book thief? The culprit may be even more insidious than those. You might've just become a victim of the Book Browsing Patron. All libraries have BBPs. They're the patrons who know they want something to read; they just don't know what it is, so they browse through the shelves at random. One trait that many BBPs share is that they're so consumed by the quest that they often forget to put the book back where they found it.

The Moweaqua Public Library had its share of BBPs when I was growing up. Mom and I knew exactly where every book should be, so we were slightly annoyed when we couldn't find a particular one. We both knew that we were shelving the books correctly, so that wasn't the problem. I seemed to be the one sent on fruitless searches most often, so I decided to go into Sherlock Mode and get to the bottom of the mystery.

When I had all my work done in the library, I sat at the table in the back where the children's section was. I would do homework, research term papers, write reams of horrible little stories and poems, and--of course--read. Once I decided to become Sherlock, I added one more item to my multi-tasking list: surreptitiously watching patrons. I knew they had to be the ones putting books in the wrong spots.

I'd barely begun my investigation when I met with success, and instead of dragging you through the entire case, I'll summarize. This is what I learned while watching library patrons browse through the bookshelves:

--Short-statured patrons when having to stretch up for an intriguing book from the top shelves have the propensity to put the book back in the middle range of shelves. They don't want to get up on tippy toes again, or they forget that they did.

--Tall patrons who have to crouch for a likely looking book from the bottom shelves have the tendency to put the book back in the middle range of shelves. They don't want to twang those crouch muscles again, or they forgot all about feeling the twang in the first place.

--Patrons, regardless of which shelf they found the book on, who for some reason turn their backs to the shelves to lean against them while looking through the book will usually put the book back on the middle range of shelves that are in front of them. That means that, not only is the book on the wrong shelf, it's not even in the right bookcase.

All this information so carefully gleaned was put to good use by me immediately. When asked to get a certain title, I'd first look where it was supposed to be. If it wasn't there, I'd look in the middle range of shelves on that same side. If it wasn't there, I'd immediately turn around and face the opposite direction and check the middle range of shelves. 99.9% of the time, I found the book.

Overnight I became a Book Hunter Extraordinaire. "How on earth did you know to look there?" I never divulged my secrets...until today. I still find them useful in libraries and book shops. You might want to give it a try yourself. Did I ever roll my eyes at these thoughtless patrons? No. Why stress over human nature? Besides, several times I noticed that a patron had become lost in a book they'd found and were not even aware of putting the other book(s) back in the wrong place. I know what it's like to be lost in a good book. I know you do, too.


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