Over the summer and unbeknownst to me, my university library moved all the U, V and Z (Library of Congress classifications) books out of the general circulations stacks and into storage. Err, the first floor depository, they say. I call it “The Restricted Section”.
Harry wandered over to the Restricted Section. He had been wondering for a while if Flamel wasn’t somewhere in there. Unfortunately, you needed a specially signed note from one of the teachers to look in any of the restricted books, and he knew he’d never get one. These were the books containing powerful Dark Magic never taught at Hogwarts, and only read by older students studying advanced Defence Against the Dark Arts. (J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Just imagine, wandering innocently into your library, in search of five books you need to check out for your class. You know they’re there. You check them out every year (it’s a small class of grad students – they can share the books over the last half of the term). But the books aren’t there. The whole circulating collection seemingly ends with the T classification for technology topics. But wander farther afield and there’s nothing. Not even a sign. I stumbled about the third floor for ten minutes, looking for where the books had gone to – I knew we had hundreds, if not thousands of titles in that range that had seemingly disappeared.
Only when I headed down to the circulation desk did I get an explanation – those books had been moved to the first floor, off limits to users – I’d have to ask a librarian to retrieve them for me. I presume (but I wasn’t told explicitly), that this was done to free up room upstairs in the circulating collection or ‘stacks’ – as new books are added, and a few are every year, they fill up the current ranges and threaten to overflow. Plus, goodness knows!, we can’t cut back on the study desks and comfy chairs that have filled in around the circulating books over the years.
Still, just wrap your heads around the situation with the books for a bit. Entire classifications of library books are gone. Sure, if you look at each individual catalogue listing, as I did later, you see a note after the call number that explains the book is located at the 1st Floor Depository. But imagine you’re an undergraduate – what does that mean? There’s no word of where that is or what you’ll need to do to see the book. How likely are you to go and ask for that? There’s not even a sign at the end of the range of books still available indicating that you need to go elsewhere and speak to someone. Even better: maybe you committed the call number to memory when you trotted off on your quick search after getting the information from the first page of the catalogue entries? If so, I bet you’ve forgotten it after a few minutes of fruitless searching.
Will you ask? will you wait? Or will you just give up? Remember, you’ve got to intuit that you have to ask someone specially for these books and then you have to wait for them to get them. We aren’t blessed with an overabundance of librarians – on weekends and into the evening, who’s going to be around to fulfil requests? Who’s going to ask if it seems even slightly daunting.
Now consider the role of shelf-browsing? How many of you have found wonderfully useful books just by running your fingers along the shelves, to see what’s there beside the book you came to get? How can you do that now that entire swathes of the library are off in storage. I’ll give you a hint – our catalogue doesn’t have that function anymore to browse a range of call numbers so you won’t.
90% of my students will give up if they think they might want one of these books. They’ll change their topic, make do with what’s online or simply pass the material by. And so the usage stats will drop even more and the library will feel justified in carting these and other books off to our local equivalent of the Restricted Section.
So much for consulting the bibliographies to direct you to other works in particular. Pay no attention to the vast scholarship in print on authorship, reading and publishing that also sits in this range – they’re all getting condemned to near uselessness by such a decision. So much for the many classic and current works of military history and scholarship – if they’re in the U category as opposed to particular national histories, they’re out of reach for ordinary library patrons at my institution.
I’m also afraid of what’s next – in any given year, for my teaching and research, I check out books from many different Library of Congress areas, particularly B, D, H, J, P and Z. What if they decide to shave off those lightly used A & B classifications into the depository next? How am I going to get my students to engage with the works of religious thinkers and the abundant scholarship we own in print of the same if the books are tucked away elsewhere.
Yes, this is a first world problem but it really irked me. I work hard enough to get our students to appreciate the range of books we have available at our library. When something like this happens, I’m filled with despair. What’s the point if our books are going to be consigned to the Restricted Section, willy-nilly?