Wednesday, September 26, 2007

things that are effed up about DC, part 347 in an ongoing series.

i'm going to try to keep this brief. because you know how i get about 1) libraries and 2) things that are fucked up.

yesterday, i had to return some books to the library. i didn't have anything that i wanted to pick up at the main MLK library downtown (or, more precisely, anything that i could pick up, since the book that was allegedly "available" and that i put on hold a month ago is still nowhere to be found), so i called to see if i could return them to the capitol hill branch not far from my apartment. i could. great.

i swing by after work and go in. the library is in an older building, brick, actually nice and library-ish-looking (unlike MLK, which though designed by van der rohe still manages to seem like a garish monstrosity-type thing). but it's small. very small. like no more than twenty small stacks and two long walls of books. apparently, it has also recently gotten a makeover. fancy new carpet, lots of new computers, these crazy stacks with giant glass pictures of flowers on the ends. flowers? yes. ok.

so i walk back through the stacks to find a book the catalog told me was available at this branch (you know i couldn't walk into a library and not take something home with me!). the book is not where it should be. i am completely and utterly unsurprised. i head back to the desk and say hey, i'm looking for this book. the librarian starts to take me back to the stacks, and i say "yeah, i already took a look where it's supposed to be, but it's not there." she says, "oh, well then it probably got taken out when they did the remodel. they haven't updated the database."


i try to process for a second. "what exactly do you mean by 'taken out when they did the remodel'?" she says, "oh, well when they re-did this library they took out all the books that were old, raggedy, torn - a lot of 'em. you probably noticed that the shelves are only half full and all the books we've got are newer copies. however, for some reason, they neglected to update CityCat [the online catalog for the DC system] after they did that."

so. to summarize: the district of columbia spent what was certainly some ungodly amount of money to renovate this tiny neighborhood library, and then they took out half the books. they took books. out of a library. (presumably to distribute them to other, less pretty city library branches, but still.)

and then - then! - they neglected to tell the people who use the library about it. so the moral of the story is, on top of the total ineffectiveness of the Hold function and the fact that MLK is literally falling apart, you can now be assured that the information you find on CityCat only has a mild to moderate chance of being accurate.

DC: so much to love.


Pete said...

Culling old, damaged holdings that don't circulate is a common part of collection management. This is especially true at small libraries where space is at a premium, but collections will always, always outstrip available space unless some holdings are removed. Further, just because MLK is falling apart doesn't mean this branch wasn't in need of repair, too, and if you're remodeling that's as good a time as any to trim some fat.

It's lame that the catalogue wasn't updated properly, though.

kate.d. said...

small libraries where space is at a premium

pete, all your points make sense except this, because the stacks were literally half-full. i guess from a common sense standpoint, it seems to me like it'd be better to leave some older books that maybe don't circulate as often than to take them out and put nothing in their place! that just seems kee-razy, and in the service of aesthetic rather than, um, service!

and i know the book is still floating around somewhere in the system - it's now just a royal pain in the ass to figure out where it is, since the catalog can't tell me :)

Sunday Librarian 1 said...

Ha! Welcome to our world... Those of us who work in the system just love having to guess as to whether or not the catalog is accurate or not. At this point, it's so f'd up that I suspect a lot of staff don't bother making small fixes when they could. For example, if a book can't be found on the shelf, and hasn't circulated in half a year, it's status should be changed to "missing", however not everyone does that. The thing is, the only way to really fix the problem is to shelf read the entire system and do a massive cleaning of the database -- which ain't happening anytime soon (although I hear some money was allocated to do this for the popular fiction room at MLK).

That said, when you weed books, you're supposed to take them out of the catalog, and if that wasn't done, it was an egregious error.

In terms of the library being half-empty of books, that's a result of the system not having a weeding policy or procedures that everyone follows. It's been totally haphazard from branch to branch for years, and that's why you will find such a disparity in holdings between branches. That said, the branch I work in has a massive amount of books (I'd say a good 10-20% of the collection), which have NEVER circulated. Stuff like that needs to go. Anyway, I hear that the Collection Development Office has been working on coming up with a new weeding program that will be applied system-wide, but who knows when...

Finally, MLK is a nightmare to work in (check out the staircase ceilings which leak every summer) and is totally ill-suited for modern public library needs. That said, due to local politics, we're stuck with it a while...

Oh yeah, if you tell us what the book you're looking for is, I might be able to find out more.

Finally, for an insider perspective on working for DCPL, check out:

barb h said...

hmmm interesting. thanks for the heads up. i'm coming to DC for an interview tomorrow and if I get the job I'll be moving up there! I love my local library here, they're soooo great. have many awards. I use them a lot. their on-line catelogue... I look up a book I want, put it on hold and then pick it up at the desk next time I go in. Oh yeah and there are no late fees. I never thought the library would be something I'd miss if I went to DC but it may well might be!

kate.d. said...

wow, sunday librarian, dropping DCPL knowledge :) thanks for the info - it makes me really sad that the nation's capital has such a shockingly neglected library system. then again, it's not a federal gov't building, so what should i expect right?

the book was katha pollitt's Subject to Debate - it's funny because i was really just checking the catalog to see if her new one, Learning to Drive, was in the system, and then i saw that one (allegedly) at SE and thought, well, i'll just pick that one up.