Thursday, May 20, 2010

Protrait of a book as a library item

I just checked out a book today.

I know, when you work in the library field, that may not be the most exciting piece of news. But I started thinking about the journey this book took the information within this book took before and after it reached my hands.

The book in question is Sarah Silverman's Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption and Pee. I think it's going to be an instant classic.

The story of how I ended up checking this book out has a very logical beginning: Facebook. One day, not too long ago, I was chatting, via Facebook wall, with my friend Liz. Liz, an amazing individual, has been living in New Hampshire the past few years. Which is kind of unfortunate.

(sorry Liz, it's true)

Don't get me wrong - I love New Hampshire. It's my home state, and I'm proud enough to be from there to have the outline tattooed on my ankle:

(It says "The Shire" underneath. And yes, it's there forever)

BUT, for a hip, intelligent individual in your mid twenties, the granite state is kind of a boring place to live (Right, Liz?) However, we were talking about New Hampshire's more positive attributes - such as it's export of comedians - mainly Adam Sandler and Sarah Silverman (New Hampshire is a great breeding ground for fart jokes). As we were discussing our mutual appreciation for Sarah Silverman, Liz mentioned her new book. In my excitement I went ahead a placed a reserve for it at my local library.

Luckily, I was one of the first to place a reserve. Even though the library didn't own a copy at the time I placed my hold, within a few days the reserve list swelled to over 150 holds. As I picked up my book today I thought about that fact. Granted, the library owns almost a dozen copies of this book, but this title is going to spend the first few months as an item in this library circulating. It's not going to sit on shelf (other than the hold shelf) for a patron to come in and browse. That idea simply struck me funny.

In fact, browsing the shelves at Multnomah County Library kind of sucks. It's because all the good books aren't in the library but are in circulation. It's rare, when I request a book, to see its status as being on the shelf. In order to get a book in your hands, it seems like you need to do a little Internet research first - read a review of it online, or have a friend recommend it to you through a social networking site. Then, after a few clicks, you place it on reserve from your libraries Online Public Access Catalog and (depending on the popularity of the item) after a few days or weeks... BOOM! It's yours.

Thinking about the life cycle of a library book makes me think about those libraries who are doing away with their books. The most recent case I've heard about is Stanford University's Physics and Engineering libraries. Another case, reported back in September 2009, involves an elite New England prep school removing all of their books from their library and turning it digital.

I think one of these libraries is appropriately removing their books and the other is not.

In the case of Stanford, both of these libraries are primarily research based, and the information these patrons are gathering will mostly be available online, anyways. Not to mention that Stanford is already having space issues (as reported in the article), so if you have to choose one library to free up shelve space, science libraries would be at the top of my list.

In the case of the private high school, I think their efforts of revolutionizing their library could end up being counter productive. These students are still developing their academic and research skills, and the interaction with physical print is a great benefit to their development. Here is an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education that proves this belief. Print is more conducive to a variety of learning styles, whereas reading from a screen is not.

I know this post is getting a little bit too big picture (welcome to my brain), what started as a post about a silly comedienne's memoir is now spinning out of control into the ethos of educational theory, so I'll try and draw this tangent to a close. I just think it's interesting to look at a book, which is fast becoming a controversial cultural artifact, as a library item. In one case you have a library that is responsible in its removal of books, another library that is irresponsible in theirs and a third, highly regarded public library, that requires you to log onto a computer to gain access to the books that can't be found on their shelves (which is the majority of them).

For those of you who wonder what types of things we deal with in library school, I hope I gave you a little something to chew on.


  1. A big congratulations to Liz, who was excepted to a pretty competitive graduate program! I'm sure you're dearly going to miss the excitement of New Hampshire....

  2. Aw, Turner! I'm famous! I'm going to miss NH. And yeah, I feel really weird writing that. Maybe the absence of laws and taxes will draw me in after I finish school... who knows!

  3. Many times I'm not sure if the problems I experience are singular or based on human experience. I can't read from a computer screen more than two book-pages worth of information; I have to print it out and waste the paper. I do believe that there are people who have adapted to how we've viewed information in the last decade, but how much? Digital readers are all in the shape of books for reasons. I'm glad the CHE article mentions scrolling. The relationship between the words as they slip down the screen and the reader grows distant, the comprehension fades, one searches for the place she last saw the phrase, but it's not on the right-hand side of page 41, about half-way down. Oh, that's right: CTRL + F.