Thursday, October 25, 2007

What if LibraryThing lost 13% of its books?

Don't worry. No, as the Washington Post recounts, it's the Library of Congress that has lost 13% of its collection. Ouch!

I wonder how long a traditional "shelf read" would take. When I was at the UMich the Classics Department's library* did one every Fall. Although it was only one room and they impressed most of the graduate students, it still took hours.

It's too bad asking users for help is harder in the physical than in the digital world—although I'm sure a lot of thingamabrarians would pay for the privilege of rolling a cart through the LC's stacks...

*available online through Filemaker of all things!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I probably shouldn't, but your opening line did make me laugh.

And I'm still looking forward to Part 2 of Openness and Transparency...

10/25/2007 12:11 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

So am I. Alas, I had something else to do on my last airplane ride. I'll get it together, though.

10/25/2007 12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, I enjoy reading these despatches from the void.

10/25/2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Anna Bananas said...

although I'm sure a lot of thingamabrarians would pay for the privilege of rolling a cart through the LC's stacks...

Or they already the ALA Convention in July, when they got the behind the scenes tour of the LoC and were allowed to take all the pictures we wanted - muahahahahahahahaaah, oh yes I was one of the lucky ones!

10/25/2007 10:25 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Shoot. I was at ALA in DC. I guess I didn't get the memo!

10/25/2007 10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't believe everything you read in the newspaper.

10/26/2007 5:28 AM  
Anonymous Jodi Schneider said...

Tim, you fail to note the critical last sentence of this article:

"Since fiscal 2003, the library has requested $12 million for inventory control and received $6.3 million."

10/26/2007 9:33 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Hey, I'm not attacking the Library of Congress. If you read it carefully you'll see me repeating the fact, saying that it hurt and musing that it would take a long time to fix. Just repeating bad news is not an attack.

10/26/2007 9:54 AM  
Anonymous Rivendell said...

I don't think it's 13% but there are always a some books I've catalogued on LT that I can't find on the shelves! (Just like the LC they are usually misplaced rather than lost).

10/27/2007 3:49 PM  
Anonymous Heather19 said...

Wow. That's so sad!! I hope they can eventually find most/all of the missing books... I don't know much about the LoC, but I know how horrible it is to loose books.

10/28/2007 9:49 AM  
Blogger Karen Coyle said...

This story may be apocryphal, but supposedly Panizzi was giving a talk on the importance of the catalog and said that if you lose half of your catalog, you might as well throw away half of your books, because they can't be found. And Cutter stood up and asked: "Yes, but which half?"

There's probably no library in the world that knows exactly what it has. Yet we act as if the catalog is 100% accurate, fussing over commas and insisting on series authority control, while some portion of the collection is essentially invisible. At the same time, ILL departments regularly request books from other libraries that the requesting library supposedly owns. I've heard that in some libraries, when there is a request for a book and it isn't found on the shelf, the request goes directly to ILL. That's better customer service than making someone wait while you comb nearby shelves and odd nooks and crannies hoping that the item will turn up. Libraries *know* that their catalog isn't accurate, or at least they act that way on the fulfillment end of library management.

Basically, what you want to do is deliver the book to the user. Unless it's a rare book, the ownership of the physical item shouldn't be the main criterion for whether or not you fulfill that request.

10/28/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Ronald Carrier said...

Jodi Schneider remarked on the funding provided to DLC for inventory control. Unfortunately, I don't think this is simply a matter of not enough money for inventory control. I think this is, in part, a software problem and in part a mangerial problem.

There are two ways to go about shelfreading. The easier way is to look at each volume in the stacks to see whether it is in its proper place relative to the other volumes. That approach would clean up the misshelving in DLC's stacks, but it would not identify whether or why any volumes are missing from the stacks. (It would also not identify any volumes that have erroneous call numbers.)

The more rigorous way to shelfread is to generate an inventory list, peferably with information on the status of each volume, and to compare what is in the stacks with what is on the list. Now DLC, like the library I work at, uses the Voyager software system. And unless DLC's version of Voyager is very different from the version my library uses, Voyager does not allow one to generate the sort of inventory list one needs for rigorous shelfreading. I know this because we wanted to do this sort of shelfreading for our library. I suppose there are ways to work around this defect, because it appears from the article that DLC is using some kind of inventory list. But the software system DLC is using is not making things easy.

I also noticed in the article that DLC doesn't seem to take much care in keeping track of materials being used within the library. At the library I work at, we use internal circulation accounts and other features of the online records to keep track of where things are, e.g., in the marking department, in the conservation department, or out at the bindery. DLC doesn't seem to do that. And that's just bad management, something that more money for inventory control is unlikely to fix.

10/28/2007 11:58 AM  

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