Saturday, June 09, 2007

Library Stories Part 3

What's the biggest difference between a library and a bookstore? For me, specific books are easier to find in the latter. I have great respect for the Dewey Decimal System (and actually know how to use one). However, the fact is, the system intimidates people and shrouds book sorting in mystery--in other words, it could have been better presented to the public.

Having used the Dewey Decimal System, I know that it's actually easy to utilize (or at least doesn't involve learning a new science or calculus). But there's probably something that scares people when you classify things based on letters and numbers alone instead of words (and perhaps reinforces the impression that book worms are elitists?). I mean in a bookstore, if I want to look for say, Fellowship of the Ring, I don't go to a card catalog: I head towards the shelf with a genre title Fantasy or Science Fiction (or in the case of our local bookstore, the Movie/Tie-In section). Honestly, the Dewey Decimal System isn't any different from that. Except instead of labeling a shelf as "Fantasy", it's instead labeled as "G182" or some other similar code, even when a good half of the Gxxx shelf are probably fiction-fantasy books.

Going back to libraries, my experience deals specifically with the Ateneo de Manila University library. Now the particular thing about that library is that it utilized both the card catalog system and computers to navigate through books (although the former wasn't updated). So finding a book was as simple as typing its title in the search entry of the program that was available and it'll give you the book's card catalog no. Then all you had to do was find the right shelf and the book should be there, right?

For some strange reason, the book you were looking for always wasn't there. And I mean always. Of course there are several possible reasons why this is the case. One is a fellow student "hid" the book somewhere else in the library (and I know peers who do this). Two, it's on the pile of books that have been read for the day (as you're asked to deposit the books that you've pulled out into one place so that the staff can return it to its proper place at the end of the day). Third, the book could be out on loan, but usually the computer indicates if such is the case.

Anyway, with such a system, you'd ask how is it possible to get any research done? Well, usually the students use the system not to find a specific book but the shelf where similar subject matter is contained. Thus if I was looking for Fellowship of the Ring, I might not find the book in the shelf it's supposed to be, but I'll probably find Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone there and other similar-genre books.

During my third year in college, something strange happened. The library was being renovated. The reason? Well one teacher was talking about how the architect didn't take into account the weight of the shelf and the books when constructing the library, hence the slow but sure deterioration of the entire building. From my point of view, the building was probably collapsing because the place had been slowly expanding (i.e. adding in more shelves/books/computers, etc.) or if the architect hadn't been informed the building was going to be a library in the first place. But honestly stranger things have happened in terms of architecture in that university.

Anyway, the point was, the library was closed and one couldn't browse through the shelves. Instead, a temporary office was set up in one of the nearby rooms and the library operated like a fast-food chain. You searched through the menu, errr computer, the book catalog no. and then filled out a form and gave it to the clerk. You'd then wait around ten minutes and the clerk will give you the book in question as only the authorized personnel was allowed entry into the library. This was probably the only time students could actually utilize the books that popped up in the computer (as opposed to never finding it) and a lot of people found it a strange experience ("I'm actually holding the book that I found in the search query!"). Them bemoaning this fact made me realize I wasn't the only one using the find-the-subject-matter-shelf method.

Of course one year later, things would revert back to normal. The library was given additional support pillars and people welcomed the missing-book syndrome.

Library Stories Part 1

Library Stories Part 2

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