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How do Librarians Stack Shelves in your Neck of the Woods?

  1. Marisa Wright profile image91
    Marisa Wrightposted 2 years ago

    Yesterday, I went to a new library and had an irritating time, trying to find books by specific authors.  They were all over the place!   For instance, I was looking for Kerry Greenwood.  There were three shelves of names beginning with "Gree"  I found four of her books right at the beginning of the Greens, then a couple more between Greenhalgh and Greene, and another  near the end of the section.  I had similar experiences with other authors.

    It was so higgledly-piggledy, I felt I had to say something to the librarian.  She was very frosty.   "When we stack the fiction shelves, we look ONLY at the first four letters.  It would take us too long to shelve them in strict alphabetical order or keep one author's books together.  That's been international library practice for 40 years."

    I have to say, I'm 60 and this is the first time I've ever noticed it in 50 years of going to libraries.  Sure, there was always a stray book out of place, but in general, when I go to a library I'm used to seeing  all (or at least most of) an author's books grouped together.   Am I going mad?  How does it work in other parts of the world?

    I'm not disputing what she said, she may well be right.  What I'm thinking is that the kind of person who'd want to become a librarian is likely to be the kind of person who'd naturally want to put the books in order, even if they didn't have to.  Someone like me, who selected one Kerry Greenwood book, then lovingly gathered up all the other strays and rearranged the shelves so they could sit together.  Sad?

    1. DzyMsLizzy profile image89
      DzyMsLizzyposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      I agree with you.  OCD?  Maybe.  But I have my share of that going on, as well.  We don't have a very good library here--it's small, and the few times I've been, they don't have what I'm looking for, and they have to order it from another branch in the county.
      But "standard library practice?"  Hardly.  Maybe HER particular brand of "standard practice" for 40 years, but hardly correct!
      (My particular OCD goes like this:  if I'm in the grocery store, and can't find an item, then notice they are actually out, and have re-arranged product into the wrong space to keep the shelves appearing full, I'll put everything back where it goes, leaving the empty slot, in an attempt to keep them honest!  LOL)

      1. Patty Inglish, MS profile image90
        Patty Inglish, MSposted 2 years ago in reply to this

        I love it. - One chain grocery here fills up empty slots for special-sales items with other products and many of us put it all back as well. Glaring big holes result and  more people ask for Rain Checks on the sale prices.

        1. DzyMsLizzy profile image89
          DzyMsLizzyposted 2 years ago in reply to this

          Good on you!  Let's hear it for keeping them honest! wink

    2. Patty Inglish, MS profile image90
      Patty Inglish, MSposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      In Central Ohio, several counties of public library systems are now connected and all of them use strict alphabetical order by last name of fiction authors. In my own county, this order has been followed since the 1950s at least, according to library history presentations. The same order is used in all of our public school libraries in the state and at the colleges and universities that I have visited.

      In the 1970s as a library clerk, if I had done what your librarian suggested is standard practice, I'd have been fired.

      All this shows that the system your librarian supports is not at all standard practice everywhere on the globe. I would guess that it is a shortcut used in that particular library system or a group of systems located nearby. I am finding that increasing numbers of customer service providers engage in such behavior - taking shortcuts and actually lying about it -  and I do not like it. If it is, indeed, standard practice, then we just don't do it here. We use alphabetical order in most of my state.

      1. Marisa Wright profile image91
        Marisa Wrightposted 2 years ago in reply to this

        Well, I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt . . . but having been a regular library user all my life both in the UK and in Australia, I've never seen shelves in such disarray.   And I do know what you mean about service providers trying to pretend lower standards are normal.

    3. calculus-geometry profile image85
      calculus-geometryposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      It sounds like your library's staff consider their jobs to be sinecures and have gotten extremely lazy.  I've been to  libraries in different parts of the world and nobody shelves like that; she's just covering her arse by telling you a lie about international practice, hoping you'll drop the issue.

      I think you should complain to someone higher up, not just because of the disorganized shelves, but also because of the blatant lying to your face.

  2. biggirloakland profile image60
    biggirloaklandposted 2 years ago

    I actually would dispute what this librarian said, because when I went to take the shelving test to work in our local library, they didn't say anything about ignoring letters after the first four.

  3. Mark Lees profile image86
    Mark Leesposted 2 years ago

    I think if they use the Dewey system it is numbered by subject then up to three letters are standard, but public libraries in my experience sort by genre then alphabet and the alphabet doesn't stop at four letters.

    1. Marisa Wright profile image91
      Marisa Wrightposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      She did mention the Dewey system for non-fiction (which I'm familiar with), but it's not used for fiction.   With fiction, there's usually a label with the first four letters of the author's name on the spine.  She maintained that they just look at the label, they don't have time to read the author's name.

      1. DzyMsLizzy profile image89
        DzyMsLizzyposted 2 years ago in reply to this

        That's not called "standard practice," it's called being lazy.

  4. WriteAngled profile image91
    WriteAngledposted 2 years ago

    I studied for a postgraduate diploma in library and information studies in 1986. Never did I hear that it was sufficient to stack fiction merely by the first four letters of an author's name. Conversely, I did hear a lot that the librarian's primary duty is to make information and books as accessible to the user as possible. Your example goes totally against this objective and suggests laziness and lack of professionalism on the part of the librarian.

  5. JessBraz profile image93
    JessBrazposted 2 years ago

    The local library here shelves the fiction by authors last name (all of that authors books are together) and the titles are listed in alphabetical order within the author's titles... I would be so confused if I had gone into that library... I agree with WriteAngled, they're supposed to make the books as easily accessible as possible.. Isn't the point of the library to encourage people to read?  lol

    I used to work at the bookstore here in town (the only one we've got).. Every employee had their own section of genre's we were responsible for keeping tidy and in order. I was quite obsessive about it. lol. I always made sure the books were in order by authors last name, then by title within the author group... It drove me crazy when people would look at a book and then but it back in the completely wrong place. lol.

    I'm going back to school in September for Library Sciences. It's my dream job to be a librarian. big_smile

    PS- My neck of the woods is eastern Ontario. smile Closest big city to me is Ottawa. smile

    1. Marisa Wright profile image91
      Marisa Wrightposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      Really?  I wanted to be a librarian when I left school.  In our final year, we had to arrange two weeks' work experience somewhere, so naturally I chose the local library.  I went to see the head librarian, who gave me a long lecture about what a dreadful job it was, and how I'd be wasting my brain if I became one.   So I did two weeks in an office instead, and became a bilingual secretary.   I've often regretted it and thought about doing librarianship, but maybe at 60 I've left it a bit late!

      1. JessBraz profile image93
        JessBrazposted 2 years ago in reply to this

        I firmly believe you're never too old to go back to school. big_smile

        I'm quite excited about it! The program is technically Library Sciences & Information Technician.. I guess in my neck of the woods it allows you to be both a librarian and/or records archivist. A lot of people get jobs as either librarians or working for the government. I live close to Canada's national capital, it would be my dream to one day work in the parliamentary library. I got to visit it once as a kid for a class trip... It's just so beautiful. smile

  6. The Examiner-1 profile image83
    The Examiner-1posted 2 years ago

    The same way that I have seen them in a northeastern and a southwestern state. Alphabetically and with the Dewey decimal system.
    Did they mix all types of the fiction too? Or did they at least separate that part?

  7. BigBlue54 profile image58
    BigBlue54posted 2 years ago

    There is a book about early human life in Britain called "Homo Britannicus: The Incredible Story of Human Life in Britain". A student at Manchester university looked for a copy in the university library but could not find it. It eventually turned up in the gay and lesbian section.

    1. Rochelle Frank profile image89
      Rochelle Frankposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      Must have been shelved by one of those people who only read the first letters.

  8. Rosie writes profile image85
    Rosie writesposted 2 years ago

    I'm just now completing my school library media specialist endorsement and have spent many hours in local school libraries and public libraries.  It does seem like all the work of one author would be grouped together (of the same genre of course).  I am definitely like you described - if I see a book out of place, I have to get it back to where it belongs.

  9. allpurposeguru profile image89
    allpurposeguruposted 2 years ago

    My working experience is all in either special libraries or academic libraries. Most public libraries I have visited put only the first three letters of the author's last name on the spine labels. Adding a fourth letter ought to make it easier to alphabetize the books on the shelves. So far, then, truncating the author's name on the spine label is indeed standard practice. Too bad you found a library that doesn't finish the job. Truly appalling

    1. Marisa Wright profile image91
      Marisa Wrightposted 2 years ago in reply to this

      I'm not complaining about what they put on the spines!   I'm complaining about how they shelve the books.  They're claiming that standard library practice is to shelve according to what's on the spine, and disregard the rest of the name.

      I've been a member of libraries in Aberdeen, Stirling, Edinburgh, Bristol, Wimbledon, and several different Sydney suburbs.   I've always taken it for granted that books are shelved in alphabetical order by author's name, and in 50 years I've never seen any evidence to suggest I'm wrong, until I joined this particular library.   .