Wednesday, May 13, 2009


I'm weeding right now. No, not my garden :) The reference collection. These are those set-aside sources that do not circulate, designed to start students off in their research... that nobody wants to use anymore. God forbid they should use a source that is not online :) So, we're reducing the size of our collection such that we can move the reference desk closer to the library entrance, and hopefully move the collection with us at some point. I'm responsible for some general works, religion and philosophy, ethnic studies, law and political science.

Dust abounds. No one has touched these things in about a decade. Many, many books are getting the orange slip of doom slipped into them - WITHDRAW. To the dumpster they go.

This morning, I was weeding alongside my good friend and colleague, Chris. We had the library laptop propped up with us so that we could see if the ill-fated titles were duplicated in another reference collection on campus, or in a circulating collection someplace. Makes those W's much easier to dish out. We happened upon a particularly weedable-looking victim with the ambitious title of "World History." All in a single volume, mind you. The history of the world. Right. At this point, Chris turns to me with a smirky smile. "Well. Why don't you try to find this in the catalog?"

I should mention at this point that our book catalog...well, it sucks. Let me give you the classic example that every librarian on this campus will cite and speak bitterly about at will. Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Ok. You want this book. You go into the catalog, select "Title Begins With..." for your search, and peck in "M-O-B-Y D-I-C-K." Should be simple, correct? What do you get in return? A declaration from Mr. Catalog that *50+* records have been retrieved in answer to your query. Upon selecting that ominous-looking "50+" link, you are treated to the first 20 results. Not a single one of which is actually Moby Dick. Moby Dick itself finally appears on *page 2* of the results list, at the mid-20 mark. I feel that it is absolutely imperative to note result #1, the very, very first item to come up on this list that is allegedly a "Title Begins with..." list for the title Moby Dick. Wanna know what that result is? African Culture and Melville's Art: The Creative Process in Benito Cereno and Moby-Dick by a fellow with the unfortunate name of Sterling Stuckey. This infuriates me. That this poor guy had parents that named him Sterling Stuckey? No, though that's worth noting all the same :) I did *not* do a "Title Keywords" search; I did a "Title Begins With..." search, and none of the first page of results begins with the words Moby Dick. Un-believ-able.

So, back to the reference collection circa 10 am this morning. I moved from my open-mouthed gape of horror at the book, to a frown at the Catalog screen on the laptop, to a glare in Chris's general direction, and he quickly saw things my way. That baby got a W. How well could the history of the world have been covered in there anyway? Thus we moved on. Unfortunately, to yet more common winners that so frequently infest reference collections. Is one wordy source type enough for a single title? Why no, when you can use two or more. "The Historical Encyclopaedic Dictionary and Chronology of the Renaissance." Sounds inviting, doesn't it? Yes, this is what we librarians do all day. And we oddly enjoy it.

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