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

Where The Good Stuff Lives

   September 4th, 2014

I just got back from an extra-long Labor Day weekend, which of course means my desk had accumulated a variety of items in my absence. Most are fairly routine to deal with, but a few - namely, donations from patrons - sometimes require special tactics.

For regular donations (like books and DVDs), we either add them to the collection or give them to our Friends group for the book sale. But other things, local history items, photographs, old newspapers, and other assorted ephemera, don't fit into an existing slot somewhere in the library, which means a Decision must be made.

In my case, all that stuff (a.k.a. Deferred Decision items) goes under my desk. It occurred to me that it's possible that the best stuff in libraries lives in places like this - and only because we don't know what else to do with it.

So, as an exercise in public shame, I thought I'd share what it looks like under my desk, and explain what's there and why. Here's what is under my desk:

Under The Desk

Now, going from left to right:

  • The tall thin boxes are unassembled acid-free archival boxes, waiting to be used
  • Next is an assembled archival box, which is my catch-all for any local history item that isn't a book. This currently includes (but is not limited to) a route map for the Bruce Freeman Rail Trail bike path (the white roll on top), old and newish newspapers, unmarked photographs, random notebooks and records, loose yellowing pages from who knows what, and some duplicates of things we have in our Local History Room. Most of these things I found while cleaning out different cabinets in the library and just consolidated here - beyond that, I don't have any idea where most of it came from
  • The white box is where I keep the current year of our local newspaper - we have a "reference" subscription to the paper, which I send out to be microfilmed after the year is complete. The publisher doesn't provide microfilm copies, so this is the only way we can continue to build a clean filmed copy for our archive
  • The "tax products" box is something I keep just because it makes me laugh, although I haven't found an actual use for is yet
  • And finally on the right, this entire box was donated by a patron and is full of magazines, newspapers, and scrapbooks of clippings, all from the 1960s and relating either to the Kennedys or the moon landing

Since we're a public library and not at archive, we really don't have a way to make most of this stuff publicly-available. But I also can't bring myself to just throw it all into the recycling bin.

I've tried to find homes for some of it - I called the JFK Library to see if they'd be interested in the old Kennedy stuff, but they said they have loads of it. Everything else, I just keep telling myself that some day when it's really slow at the desk, I'll go through it all and do something with it. Some day.

Anyway, I'd be curious to hear if anyone else has a treasure trove like this under their desk (or elsewhere). I hope I'm not alone, and I suspect that I'm not.

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5 Responses to “Where The Good Stuff Lives”

  1. Alexandra Says:

    Oh, you’re not the only one! I’m a Youth Services Librarian, and I’ve had this box of “recyclable materials” under my desk for over a year. It’s a catch all for the things I find or am given that I’m sure I can find some crafty use for in the future…at some point…I hope.

  2. ChiLibrarian Says:

    I cleverly get my local history librarian to keep all those treasures at her desk, instead of mine.

    For those local interest items which we think patrons might actually enjoy looking at, we copy them, add material from local newspapers and other sources, and bind them together in folders. Then we catalog and circulate them as “local history files” on various topics (local businesses, historic homes, local historic figures, etc.). The folders are stored in the file cabinets we used to use for vertical files. They are especially popular with students doing local history projects. We’ve essentially collated all the materials for them.

    We’ve added most of the historic local buildings info to our website via Google Sites, and work with our local history museum to keep those entries up-to-date, but there’s still a lot of other topics not digitized and only available in those paper files.

    Depending on the uniqueness/condition/value of the originals, we either recycle them, catalog and keep them in storage, or offer them to the history museum. And all of that is a lot of work, thus having a part time local history librarian!

  3. Mary Jo Says:

    We had a donation of some magazines and newspapers from the moon landing and we put them together in a large ziploc and put them in the Friends book sale room with a $25 price tag. They sold in two days.

  4. Anne Stockwell Says:

    You’re not alone – I have a drawer full of those “Golden Books” most of us grew up with, that people keep donating; too flimsy to process, but I can’t bear to give them away.

  5. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Alexandra: oh I didn’t even want to mention Childrens or YA – you guys always have the coolest stuff in the building.

    @ChiLibrarian: ah-ha, having someone else do it is an excellent strategy. I like your approach though – circulating vertical files is a good idea. And thorough, so good job to you guys (but especially your local history librarian!)

    @Mary Jo: That is not a bad idea for those – our book sale is coming up in two weeks, so I’ll see what people think.

    @Anne: I know exactly how you feel – especially with those books too.