or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 4/26/09

   May 2nd, 2009 Brian Herzog

beating a dead horseI wasn't actually asked this reference question this week, but I have answered it more than once in the past. I use it here because the scenario below illustrates the point of this week's posts.

Patron: I'm remodeling a room in my house - do you have any books on that?

Why, yes, we do. Usually when people ask this question, what they're after are the interior design-type books. These are good for ideas on paint color combinations, decor, furniture, etc, and are mostly shelved at Dewey 747.

I take the patron over there, and after flipping through a couple, the patron says,

Patron: I like the ideas in these two. But neither of them actually tell you how to paint - are there books that will show a beginner like me how to do it right?

We have those books, too, but they're in a different section. I shuffle the patron over to the 645's, but I also need to show her the 698's, because there are some how-to books there, too.

While I'm pointing out these books, the patron continues,

Patron: We've already started painting a bit, and spilled paint on the carpet. Will these books tell me how to clean that up?

Well, no, I don't think so... those books will be in 640.

Patron: Oh, and we noticed some cracks in the drywall, which we'd like to try to repair. My husband is pretty handy, so he thinks he can handle it. And one of the outlets isn't working, so can you show me where those books are?

Now we're back to the 690's for the drywall books, but need to cross over to 621 for books on wiring. The patron says thank you, and is excited, because we have books on every aspect of her project. But as I turn to leave, she takes my arm and says,

Patron: Before you go... well, I'm lost. I've forgotten where the first books are you showed me, and the 'how to paint' books - can you show me where those are again?

I know her project is involved, but the basic question is fairly straight-forward: "where is the home improvement section?" My issue is that Dewey doesn't have one - it has at least four.

Patrons have difficulty finding library resources because we make it difficult. All of these books, since they are related, should be shelved more closely together than this. Why is it that books on dogs (636) are between the electrical books (621) and the home improvement books (645); and between the home improvement books (645) and the general construction books (690's) are books on writing resumes (650)? Arrgh.

Don't worry: no dead horses were beaten during the writing of this post.

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