Why You Can’t Have Your Book Right Now

Posted in: Research, A Summary View

I know that when you want the latest hot Jefferson biography, it must seem like aeons until it is ready for you.  Well, I am here to tell you that we are not just sitting on your book, twiddling our thumbs.  No!  We are doing Very Important Things to that book.  You can’t see it, but we’re doing it.

Think of it this way.  When we get a shiny new book (or a smelly old book), it is fated to spend the rest of its life with us squirreled away in the stacks, in a location known only to about two people.  And those two people will probably forget the location within minutes.  So, how are the library users to find this book, once we’ve squirreled it away like an acorn in a forest? 

Well, you could wander around the stacks, hoping to find it.  Sometimes it seems to me that this is the method preferred by most library users.  But trust me, it’s not a good way to find a specific book. 

Fortunately for the whole world, the special breed of librarians called Catalogers have a very complex and highly-developed system in place to help you find your book.  Basically, they need to extract every single smidgen of identifying information from that book and enter it into a rigidly-structured database using a highly complex set of rules.  No spelling errors allowed.  Things like spaces, commas, semicolons and carriage returns are vital.  A single typing error can doom a book to NEVER BEING FOUND AGAIN!  (Every librarian’s nightmare.)

There are rules for absolutely everything when cataloging a book.  How to enter the author’s name (there is an official list which the name must be drawn from, so the name is the same in all library catalogs).  How to enter the title How to enter a title with an ampersand so people who search for it without the ampersand will find it.  And so on and on and on.  Rules rules rules!  There is even a rule that tells us how to catalog a book written by somebody who is channeling a dead person (see image above).  

In case you are scoffing right now, we actually have such a book:

(As our cataloger has commented, in the cataloging world it is possible for a person to write a book after they are dead, but not before they are born – there’s no rule for how to catalog a book written by an unborn baby.  Yet.)

So, that’s why we must, for the good of all library patrons, make you wait just a little bit longer for your book… 

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