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

Reference Question of the Week – 9/5/10

   September 11th, 2010

back pain artA patron comes to the desk and asks where the books on back pain are. I get up to show him, but he says he can find them himself, if I just write down the call number for him. So I write 617.564 on scrap paper and he was off.

A few minutes later he comes back and says he needs help after all. He found the books okay, but it turned out they are all on the bottom shelf and his back hurts too much to bend over.

We have a laugh at the irony, then I pull them all and put them on a cart, so he can take them over to a chair.

This is another example of an unintended side-effect of Dewey, and also the second shelf-height-related incident I've helped with. I wonder how long before we achieve the trifecta - is it possible for books to be too "middle-shelf?"

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8 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 9/5/10”

  1. Mary Ellen Says:

    Grammar police calling: ‘too much’.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Mary Ellen: “to serve and correct” = thank you. That’s what I get for being my own editor.

  3. Vickie Turcotte Says:

    Now wait a minute – Dewey doesn’t dictate that books on back pain be shelved at the bottom. While the shelf location was certainly unintended, it has nothing to do with the particular Dewey number assigned.

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Vickie: Well, “unintended side-effect” meaning that Dewey order requires linear shelving – start with 001 at one end of the room and keep going until you get to 999. A more flexible system, based on subjects, would allow for moving things around more depending on available space. Granted, you’d still need to use the high and low shelves, but you’d have some leeway. But with Dewey, the 617’s have to go between the 616’s and 618’s, no matter where that ends up.

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  6. Michelle Says:

    We had a similar story where a disgruntled library user proclaimed that the books ‘didn’t go there’. We had moved around some stock to make more room and her favourite area had shifted over 1 bay and up a few shelves. She was not impressed.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Michelle: and it’s funny how long that persists – we did a major shift over a year ago, and I still get the occasional patron who asks when (and why) we moved their section. And the fun never stops: we’ll need to do another major shift in the next year or so (to interfile our reference with our circulating non-fiction), so we’ll start the whole thing over again.

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