Tales From the Sidelines
(of Librarianship)

I was unsure what to call this page since I am a librarian but do not work in a library. I do however work with and teach librarians who do work in libraries. I also use libraries as a patron extensively although I do not announce that I have an MLS when I do so. So I figured I was on the sidelines; understanding all the rules but not directly participating. Here are my observations.

The newest story is at the top of the page. So, if this is your first visit you'll need to read them from the bottom up.

These are all true stories that have happened to me. The names have been changed to protect the guilty (or at least the minimally suspect.)

The case of the miss-described link
or, Shouldn't you check that link first?
October 4, 2001

After the events of 11 September 2001, I was working on my XHTML and CSS2 skills. Knowing that having a purpose when creating a Web page makes learning the technology easier, I decided to create a page dedicated to resources on and answers to questions regarding the previous day's events. Quickly this site became very popular and many libraries (and other sites) started linking to it.

Early on in the development process (day one) it was pointed out to me that certain versions of Netscape Navigator 4.x did not like some of my code (despite it being valid code, but that's another story) and did not display the complete page. I quickly posted a note at the beginning of that page stating the problem, asking for help in solving it, and to let people know that I was on top of the problem.

One or two sites that linked to me, made note of this problem in their description of my site. Within hours, I had solved the problem and the document now displayed on all versions of all browsers.

In the following days I kept an eye on who was linking to my site. Then a funny thing started happening. Sites that had newly placed links to my site on their pages, described the Netscape display problem, which had been solved for days! In one case I found a similar description a full 10 days later.

Who done it?
In this case it was the linkers, mostly librarians, that found my site through another one and didn't bother to check to see if that description was accurate. They just copied the bad description and placed it on their site. Two problems: 1. Did they have the right to just copy and paste the description on one site, to theirs without citing a source? Isn't that a violation of copyright? 2. Why didn't they bother to check out my site first or just ask me if the problem had been solved?

Ultimately I believe that I tracked them all down and politely requested that the descriptions be updated to reflect the lack of the problem. Everyone I contacted promptly responded to my request and fixed their descriptions.

The Case of the Mixed Genres
or, Science Fiction and Fantasy are NOT the Same
July 30, 2001

Let me be honest, this isn't a true library story but it applies to libraries nonetheless.

Through most of high school, all of college and a few years after that, I worked in a Waldenbooks in Greece, NY, my home town. The first manager I had there was a reader. (A unique thing, but I digress.) Anyway, he loved SF and Fantasy, as I do, and he believed that these two genres were separate genres and shelved them accordingly, as their own separate sections.

As the years went by, he left and so did many of the other employees. I kept his tradition going. Within one week after my leaving that job, the two sections were melded into one. I personally know that they lost at least a few customers as there were many that came to that store specifically due to the non-interfiling of SF and Fantasy.

Today I was in Pittsburgh, KS and wondered into a small independent mall bookstore and started browsing through their books. I noticed a book I had been waiting to purchase. It was 20% off but I wasn't sure that I wanted to buy it just then. But then my head did a double-take; I noticed I was looking at the "Fantasy" section. Just off to my left was the "Science Fiction" section. The selection was small but they had not interfiled!

I immediately took the book up to the counter with a stunned look on my face. The clerk gave me a funny look and I explained to him why I was purchasing this book in his store.

Who done it?
The store, and I'm happy about it! But here's the gripe. Why do bookstores (and libraries) insist on interfiling SF and Fantasy. They don't interfile Westerns and Romance do they? "Well, hey, SF and Fantasy are so close." You obviously don't read either! "But customers/patrons will get confused." Poppycock! SF and Fantasy readers are some of the most literate people I know! "But some authors will need to be filed in two different locations." So, it happens in non-fiction all the time! This is the same logic that files all Anne Rice's books in Fiction in Barnes & Noble stores (I know, I read the company memo. (Hey, have you noticed that they've all lost their horror sections in the past year?)) Ms. Rice writes erotica, suspense, historical fiction and horror. The problem is, some people read her horror and not the other stuff. Just as some people read SF and not Fantasy. How about trying it out? Depending on the size of your collection it would probably take you only an hour or two to separate the books. See how your patrons react and get back to me.

The Case of the Always Correct Computer
or, Would it hurt to just glance over your shoulder?
July, 21 2001

I received an automated phone call from my local library telling me that an item I had requested had come in. (Unfortunately, these calls do not tell you what came in but that's anther gripe.) Anyway, I check my account via the library Web site and found nothing listed as being on hold for me.

Well, deciding that I needed to drive by the library anyway, I stopped in, found a few other items and walked up to the circ desk telling the clerk I had received this phone call. The clerk scanned in my card and dutifully checked out my items. Politely reminding her that I might have something on hold, she rescanned my card, looked at the terminal screen for a moment and informed me that nothing was on hold.

Who done it?
In this case it's another clerk offering poor service. (Let me say that this was a women in her mid 40s, so no gum chewing high-schooler in this story.) You see, the hold shelves are no less than five feet behind where the clerk was standing. But, did she bother to turn around and physically look at the hold shelves for my name. No. She just trusted the computer and gave it no further thought.

The Case of the Overzealous City Council
or, Going Overboard to Give the "Right" Impression
May 21, 2001

There is a public library here in Colorado which seems to be the victim (in my opinion) of a City Council gone mad. In the council's wisdom they have deemed it "inappropriate" for the library to link to any Web site that had a top level domain (TLD) of .com through the library's own site!

Why, you may ask. Well, as I understand it linking to a .com would imply "endorsement" of whatever that might might be selling.

Well, I suggested, what about putting a disclaimer on the page stating that no endorsement is given nor should be implied. Not good enough I hear.

This I find quite scary. Here are librarians that must forgo some of the best resources on the Net for their patrons just because of three letters.

In one instance they complained that they could not link to The Weather Channel. I suggested they try The Weather Underground instead. No good. That's a .com too. How about my library directory, nope, not that either. Regardless of that fact that I don't sell anything, it is hosted at a .com and therefore verboten.

Who done it?
Why, the city council of course for not having even a basic understanding of how linking works. Hey, I wonder if someone on the council has a brother in the MPAA? Anyone out there have some space on a .org (or better yet a .gov ;-) that would be willing to host a page of links that these wonderful librarians have taken the time to find for their patrons?

The Case of the Cracked Case
or, Are the Patrons Solely to Blame for Damage?
May 18, 2001

I take out a significant number of CDs from a public library. I'm constantly amazed at the horrible condition of both the cases and the CDs themselves. I can assume that the cases easily become cracked by patrons returning them through the drop-slot despite being instructed not to. The scratched and gouged conditions of the CDs scares me but that's just carelessness on the part of the patron.

But, back to the cases, can we really only blame the patrons? Maybe not.

Several months ago, I requested a CD from another branch. About a week later I received a personal voice mail from a live human from the library explaining that the CD had been returned by the previous patron in an "unplayable" condition. After exhaustive apologies, I was promised that a new copy was being ordered of the popular CD and that I would be "the first person to get the new disc."

Two days ago I received a automated call telling me that an item I had reserved had arrived. It was the CD. I went in yesterday to pick it up. I got out to my car and went to put the disc into the player in my car. I noticed that there had been a piece of clear binding tape put along the spine of the CD. Many times this is done to make sure a spine label is not easily removed from the case. Unfortunately this makes the jewel case difficult to open since the tape impedes the natural workings of the cases hinges.

Upon closer inspection, I realized the true reason for the implementation of the tape on this case. This brand new CD of which I was the first patron to handle it was already broken and in such a condition that without the tape the front of the case would not stay attached to the back of the case.

A coworker of mine suggested that maybe they had placed the new CD into the old case. I disagree with this theory for two reasons, first, why bother (though it would remove the need to create new labels) and second, other than the significant crack in the case make the application of binding tape necessary, the case had not another scratch on it, leading me to believe that the case was new.

Who done it?
The case was damaged by library personnel before ever being let out into the hands of patrons. If library staff damage their materials, why should patrons treat said material with any respect?

The Case of the Serious Humor
or, How Do You Handle Rowdyness in Your Library?
May 17, 2001

There is a site I check daily for weird-but-true news stories: Romenesko's Obscure Store and Reading Room. Today was a link to a story titled 'Library bans chess games after fans get rowdy'. Finding this story highly amusing as both a librarian and a chess player, I unfortunately decided to pass it along to several library-based electronic mailing lists.

So far I have received many responses from librarians wondering how I either "dealt with the problem" or "how they deal with the problem".

Who done it?
Hey folks, I just though it was a funny story and passed it along. I don't write for The Pioneer Planet nor did I have anything to do with the event in question.

The Case of the Wasted Postage
or, Postage Rates Change Yet Policy Does Not Adjust
May 2001

The ILL saga continues...

I do a lot of ILL right now as part of the research process for my collector's guide to Dean Koontz. As described earlier, I try to make it as easy for the ILL department as possible but they seem determined to make it more expensive to than it needs to be.

I currently have about 50 outstanding ILL requests. I go in at least twice a week to pick up new items that come in. About two to three times a week I get an envelope in the mail that informs me of the inability of the ILL department to get an item for me for various reasons (no lender in the country, item bendable out out to another patron, too expensive, etc.)

Who done it?
It seems that so far the ILL department has spent over $20 in postage mailing me these notices when they could just leave them for me with the items that have come in so I can retrieve them when I pick up the items, thus saving the library (and the city's tax payers) needless postage.

The Case of the Clueless Clerk
or, Do You Do This Often?
April 2001

Here's another ILL story...

While checking out several ILL items one day the circ clerk commented "I just don't understand why all these items can't have the same due date." I thought I might take that opportunity to try and explain that ILL items come from different libraries and that those other libraries set the due dates on these items but the long line prevented me from doing so.

In that same one-sided conversation (and almost every other time I pick up an ILL item) I am asked "Have you done ILL before." Never mind that I'm in several times a week to pick up multiple ILL items per trip, or the fact that my record reflects as such on their screen. I just politely answer, "Uh, yes."

Who done it?
Obviously the ILL department is not part of the chic clerk training process. Some times I wonder if the clerks are even made aware of the ILL department...

The Case of the Blank Stare
or, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
March 2001

After I signed a recent book contract, I realized that my research would involve many ILL requests of my local public library. Being the librarian and responsible person that I am, I though it would be a good idea to introduce myself to the head of the ILL department and explain to the my situation and warn them of the work I'd be sending their way.

I was able to meet with her and here's how the conversation went: (Paraphrased)

Her: "May I help you?"
Me: "Hello, I'm [my name] and I'm a librarian the Internet trainer at [organization]."
Her: Blank stare
Me: "Well anyway, this isn't company business I just wanted to introduce myself and give you a heads up on the fact that I'll be sending a lot of ILL requests your way."
Her: "O.K."
Me: "Uh, well, I was wondering if there was anything I could do to make your staff's job easier to process my requests."
Her: "Oh, fill out the form correctly. You can fill out the part for your name and contact information and then make copies, that will make your life easier."
Me: "Thanks, I hadn't thought of that."
Her: Stare...
Me: "Well, thanks for your time. Can I pick up a stack of forms now."
Her: "Yes, you can get them at the reference desk. Anything else?"
Me: "Nope. Thanks for your time."
Her: "Bye."

Who done it?
Well, you can't say I tried. She had no clue who I was or who I worked for, never mind that they get some of their online databases through us and that we're located about four miles down the road. I did follow her suggestion and make those copies, it does help me. I ended up copying full WorldCat bib records onto the backs of their forms and they haven't complained about that (nor said thanks for the help) so I'll assume it's working for them.

All stories © Michael Sauers
Last Updated: 06 August 2001