September 14, 2012

Did you ever assume... part 4

In last week's post, I mentioned a short list of what library staff do regularly:  answer emails, assess donations, attend meetings with staff and others, clean, create programming, help at a service desk, look at damaged materials, order materials, organize, process materials, read journals, shelve, update book keeping, write and promote...

These are largely invisible tasks that many people don't think of.  The assumption might be that, since the library only checks books in and out, there seem to be a surplus of people about.Why do we need so many people to just check out materials?

It's true that borrowing materials is one of the main reasons patrons visit the library (it was the number one reason cited by participants of our recent survey), but the library offers many other services that all require staff attention.
the book drop, full of books waiting for staff to check-in.

First, checking books in and out is not a simple matter of only scanning books when they are in front of us.  When books are brought to the library to be checked in, each books is examined by a staff member to check the item's condition.  This is how we take care of smudges on discs, fingerprints, small tears or general sort of dirty marks, and how books that need to be replaced are identified.  Checking each and every item takes a significant amount of staff time but is a vital step in ensuring the collection we offer you is of acceptable quality.

Once books have been checked in, they then go through a process to get back onto their proper shelves.  Books "in the back" are sorted by area of the library where they belong (picture books, juvenile nonfiction, books on CD... ), and then sorted into proper order within each section (alphabetically by author or numerically by Dewey number).  Shelvers then take carts of materials to different areas of the library and put the books away, ready to be found by new and different patrons.  Let me just say, our shelvers are fantastic: I've been at a good number of libraries, and nowhere else were things shelved as quickly or as accurately as our shelvers do it.  Huzzah, you guys!
Somewhere in this shelving process, by the way, is where a book might be if the catalog says it is "recently returned."  Recently returned is an automatic setting that the book receives for 48 hours after check-in; it can take up to that amount of time for a book to make its way to its proper shelf.

When a patron (such as you) finds a book on the shelf and brings it to be checked out, again, there may be several steps involved.  Circulation staff help new patrons create new library card accounts; they help patrons who have had late items take care of any fines that may have accrued.  They switch out the empty "browser" case for the new DVD held behind the Circulation desk, and do the same for the YA manga. 

There are separate, more involved check in procedures for our special items, such as Locker Boxes and Book Club Kits.  So there's no "just" in "checking books in and out": it's a long and involved process, designed that way to ensure the quality of the collection available to you, our patrons.

This process outlined above only takes care of re-circulating books that are already in the library and that remain in good condition.  Technical Services does an amazing amount of work to prepare books for circulation as well as to keep items in good repair.  When books come into the library from our vendors, they are pretty much like how they would come to you from a store.  They don't have bar code stickers, call number stickers or spine labels, genre stickers, Mylar covering, and the "Neill Public Library" possession stamp or possession tape.  All that happens in-house, by hand.

An additional step in the process is creating the catalog record.  Records for most material can be found from other sources, so little original cataloging is necessary, but Technical Services staff review each record, an individual record for each item, to make sure that all the information is correct.  Many people don't appreciate catalog records, but when information in the record is incorrect, it can cause problems in the library.  The catalog record has all the information you see in the "public version" of the record: title, author, publication information, subject headings, ISBN, the book's physical description, summary, and holding information (collection location, call number, item status, and due date as applicable).  All this information can help you determine if the record in front of you is a book you'd like to read, and it can also help us identify a book.  Perhaps a book has lost its bar code sticker; by looking at the ISBN, the book's physical dimensions and number of pages, we can identify if this book belongs to this catalog record. 

Finally, as shared in a recent article printed in the Daily News, the top five reasons (in order) that people visit the library are to borrow materials, to ask a librarian for assistance, to use the public computers or wi-fi, to read newspapers or magazines, and to attend a youth program.

We've already addressed the first reason.  Each task or service involved in the other four also takes dedicated staff time to complete.  These reasons that patrons visit the library show that the library isn't "just" for checking out materials. 

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