From the Vault - Book Blog
April 19, 2018
It All Comes Full Circle
I made an amazing discovery recently. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I am probably the only person in the world who has ever noticed what I’m about to share with you. Count yourself as lucky to now be number two.
Cataloging books is an astonishingly complex task. The Dewey Decimal System surely faces (as must any other system that has ever tried to assign categories to topics), profound challenges. “Profound” is the right word, because we’re talking about things that are not just big in the sense of scale, but also strikingly significant.
Consider this for example: within the DDS there is a major catalog division for volumes on Religion (the 200s). Within Religion you’ll find, of course, volumes on Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and pretty much any other religion you can think of (and plenty you can’t.) Among other ways in which that category is subdivided, religions are classified by their geographical origin. The prefix 299.7 is where the system puts religions of North American origin -- which clearly encompasses belief systems of Native Americans. Is anyone seeing something interesting yet? No? Let me continue. The DDS also has a category -- within the Social Sciences (the 300s) -- for Folklore. Folklore from North American traditions is found under the number 398.2097 where you will see on the Green Fields Library shelves titles such as Keepers of the Earth, The Fourth World of the Hopi, and The Boy Who Made Dragonfly. Interesting indeed. What does where we shelve books say about “us” (both the system and the librarian)? What, exactly, goes into deciding whether something is a religion or a myth? Does counting something as a religion offer validation of it (Like the UN recognizing a nation)? And who, ultimately, gets to decide? Alright. I’m getting a bit off the topic of this post, but am hoping I’ve at least convinced you that we’re dealing with profound things when we talk about how to classify subjects.
There is really no end to the challenges of where to most appropriately “put” books, even with an extensively thought-through system at hand. (Talk to me someday about castles or Edward Abbey if you want to explore this further.) I concede that with computers helping us find any volume in our library using a keyword search (regardless of where it sits), the consequences of putting something on a less than optimal shelf is surely minimized. Yet, there exists within the heart of every librarian a need for clarity, consistency, order and sense, so putting things in the “right” place is something we strive for anyway. Since joining Green Fields Library staff last year, I have spent countless hours in the pursuit of those aims. Ultimately someone has to decide where to shelve The Dangerous Book for Boys, volumes of Magic Eye pictures, The Magic Tree House Research Guides, and, of course, those books on Native American belief systems.
A library of our size and age includes plenty of odd little artifacts -- the detritus of years of cataloging choices made in line with the world view and the institutional ethos of the time. Since we’ve had numerous librarians making institutional-specific decisions about where things go, one of my goals has been to address inconsistencies. I’ve rooted out many a weird thing, picked a place, and probably most importantly, documented the reasons behind those decisions -- so that future librarians can at least know why we shelved things where we did....before throwing out the proverbial, if not the literal, manual and doing it their own way.
But here’s where we get to my discovery!
Earlier this year, with fresh energy, I dug in to the lowest numbered volumes we have, found on the far left of the top shelf of the “first” bank of shelves we use. That would be the 000’s. In the DDS, “000’s” relate to Information, Generalities. Volumes housed in this area cover topics such as almanacs (030s), journalism (070s), computers (004…), library science (025) or the like. While working on this first shelf, I was surprised to encounter several books on UFO’s. At first I thought this had to be a mistake. Aliens seemed in strange company with Roberts Rules of Order and research citation systems. But I was wrong. The lowest category of all in the DDS is 001 -- and it relates to Knowledge. Now, you may have guessed this, but “Knowledge” is a squirly category. In the DDS, it includes communications and research to be sure, but it also includes “controversial knowledge,” mysteries. Classified within 001.9 are volumes on the lost world of Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and, yes, flying saucers & UFOs. Aliens. I happily left these volumes in peace where they sat, bookended by Books that Changed the World and How Computers Work.
Later in the year -- and please don’t get a false impression that I actually worked through all the intervening numbers -- I was shelving on the bottom shelf on the far right of the last bank of shelves we use, in the high 990s of the DDS. It just so happened that I was cataloging a book related to the Arctic Islands when I encountered something that stopped me in my tracks.
First, let me give you a little primer. In the 900s of the DDS, we classify volumes on Geography and History. There is a generally sensible progression of DD numbers as you work your way around the globe. For instance, European countries’ history will be found in the 940s, Asia in the 950s, Africa in the 960s. Keep going up, and you’ll get to the United States at 973. (There is a basic geographic pattern to this, though if you want your ear talked off some day: ask me about the numbers for Canada and Mexico). To name a few more, the 980s include South American countries, 994 is Australia, 996 Polynesia, 997 is for Islands located in the Atlantic Ocean; and, 998, as I just mentioned: the Arctic and Antarctic Islands. Now that we’ve exhausted all the geographical regions on Earth, guess what we get to last?
999. The DDS classification for extraterrestrial worlds, including speculation about life and the search for life on other planets.
Aliens are at the beginning and end of all human endeavors. Profound? I think so.
Sometime in Spring of 2018
Best intentions are interesting, aren't they? When I started "The Vault" blog last year, I felt strongly committed to the idea of producing fresh content at an undisclosed, but reasonable, pace. Well aware that no one is going to come to the Library blog looking for posts if I can't maintain the habit of providing such, I have to accept a healthy share of the blame for allowing this endeavor to slip to the back burner. But -- here's the part where I get to whine a bit as to why it belonged on that burner -- it's been a crazy busy year in the Library.
I'll give you the school-year recap in brief; you be the judge.
I started the year with a few important goals:
- To clear out the enormous backlog of book donations that were filling up several cabinets. (By "clear out," I mean to either catalog the books into our collection or donate them elsewhere).
- To organize and neatly archive our holdings of all school publications (The Flyer, the Prism, the Griffin News, etc) in an accessible archive.
- To declutter the massively cluttered Alumni and Dorson Rooms and to move appropriate collections to each.
- To declutter the insanely cluttered Librarian Office. (I don't mean to imply that our beloved and charming prior Librarian was a packrat... I mean to imply that at least three -- and maybe more -- prior Librarians may have been. :)
- To do other, continuing, organizing and streamlining activities, the details of which I will not bore you with here.
These projects absorbed a great deal of time in the first months back to school. The great news is that the first and second projects are, through Herculean efforts, done! And the next several bullet points are largely accomplished but ongoing. ...and probably neverending.
As Fall advanced, the Scholastic Book Fair took over our lives. We held another extremely successful event which provided a great community-building event for our whole school, helped many families stock up on Christmas gifts, and also resulted in many dozens of new titles on our shelves -- purchased with the Scholastic dollars that our fair earned for the the Library. The cataloging "in" of those new volumes, and getting them out on the shelves was the work of much of December and January.
The processing of more new donations, and the fine-tuning of our Literature and Biography sections continued to demand large amounts of attention up until a few weeks ago.
Then, suddenly a monkey wrench reared it's ugly head (and, yes, I am of course aware that I have egregiously mixed a metaphor). Our Follett Cataloging system gave a final groan and then collapsed on the ground under its own weight. And don't even talk to me about the way I am mangling the metaphor now -- I'm a Librarian without a card catalog, digital or otherwise. I must be forgiven. Plans are in progress for moving forward in a bigger and better way soon. But in the meantime.... Mr. Attinost and I must work (and for the last several weeks have been working) in the quasi dark ages to check in and out books and to help patrons find what they are looking for.
The problem with technology is that it is amazing when it is working; but when it isn't, we seem to be even worse off than if we'd never had it in the first place, because we no longer have other simpler systems in place. For a while, we were recording check outs and ins in a paper notebook. Now, we're doing a step better with a sweet Google docs spreadsheet system (thanks Mr. Pier!) But its been a bumpy ride.
Oh wait, I didn't even mention the flood. When it rains it pours. (I know.) Lets not even go there. The Baker Room is dry and put together now. ...knocking on wood as I type that.
Interestingly enough, because I can no longer access our Catalog, I have been stymied in many of my special projects. And it is because of the standstill that I find I do have "free time" to turn attention back to the Library website that was still patiently sitting on the back burner. Where I'd left it last year. And that's where I'll leave you now.
Tune in for updates on our system upgrade! - and on additional projects that are still getting done! - and, I hope, a post about our Tiny Library which - if you haven't seen it, is adorable! (It's adorable even if you have.)
Thank for your attention and continued support of one of our school's greatest assets!
April 19, 2017
Spring cleaning is underway at the Library!
Benoit, Dylan and I have been very busy. If you haven't poked around in the Green Fields library lately (or ever), you might be surprised at just how many nooks, crannies, closets, shelves, cabinets and receptacles are present here! It is a mind-blowing task to simply inventory the lot. But in addition to slowly chipping away at the project of learning what we have here, we have endeavored to clean and organize it.
This will likely be ongoing for months, and maybe years, and its progress will come in fits and starts as we work around other business. But I wanted to share with you some of the most important work that has been done already:
- The completion of the "J Non-Fic" project started by Susan Baker. OK. I shouldn't confidently declare that we are "done" pulling lower-school-appropriate books off the shelves in the main stacks and migrating them to the Baker Room; I'm sure that for years we will continue to find volumes that aren't optimally placed, but . . . I do declare ;) that the bulk of our non-fiction volumes that should be most appealing to and appropriate for the K-5 set are now housed where they belong and that books with interest and reading levels more appropriate for those from 5th grade up are housed in the main stacks!
- Another major endeavor has been the reworking of the Reference shelves. Dylan worked tirelessly on this one -- comparing volumes on the shelves with a shelf list and helping to migrate materials that more appropriately belong in the stacks. For now, we are keeping a more scaled-back Reference section, located where it always has been. But the reorganization has created space, and now there is an Oversized Books section right next to Reference materials. Come check this out. It looks amazing!
- The moving of Oversized Books to their new location and out of the Dorson Room also had the effect of allowing that room to feel a bit more spacious and less cluttered.
We've moved other materials around and reorganized to optimize shelf space all around the library, but probably the thing that Benoit and I are most excited about is the birth of a Special Collections section!
Its been a bit of a pet project to round up materials that are old, fragile, or special in some other way and keep them together and protected. So in our Spring cleaning recently, when we unearthed a couple additional boxes of special materials and books that used to circulate but were stuffed away in boxes, it seemed a perfect time to make the dream a reality.
The Special Collections volumes are now arranged on the shelves in the librarian office. Unfortunately, they have yet to be cataloged or alphabetized. But boy are they pretty! It is a perfect location, dark and away from sun, in a controlled location and! (this was clearly meant to be) actually fit perfectly in the shelf space.
Although these materials will not circulate, they are absolutely available for you to take a look at. We encourage you to do so.
A library is a work in progress. And to books nerds like me, this journey . . . the job of archiving, organizing, and caretaking this incredible collection is both an honor and a dream. I'm glad to have the chance to share even a tiny bit of that joy with you.
Feb 15, 2017
There is no better way to get in touch with what a place has to offer, than to catalog its contents. The idea of "From the Vault" came to me while organizing and updating our catalog in preparation for the transition to a new library database. Though we all know that the school has been here a while, you don't really get the true feeling for just how * l o n g * until you start to explore the shelves of the Green Fields Library.
Over the years, many librarians have sat in this chair and organized these books. . . . and it shows. How many have held the charge of finding a precious item for a student project and knowing just what was here? (That sounds like a topic for a future post!)
In the early days, books were assigned call numbers by hand. I know this because, well, it's obvious. . . . and because you can still find plenty of hand-labelled volumes on our shelves. (The nostalgically-minded might be sorry to hear that I am pulling off and re-making these hand-written labels bit by bit -- if only to assist with legibility, given the ravages of time and sunlight on ink! Sorry! its a cruel world that plods relentlessly forward.) Nevertheless, on these volumes can be found the evidence of many hands -- both literally, lettering the labels, and figuratively, making choices over where to put things. Our extensive history creates layers of interest on the shelves. For one, it's been interesting to see various cataloging theories in play over time. Some things are hard to classify: Is it a picture book or a biography? Is it geography or history? There are plenty of volumes that cross lines and there are often hard choices to make about where to put something. The librarian of the day is in the fortunate position of making those judgment calls . . . . That is, until the next one comes along and changes it.
For me, it's like an archaeological expedition to peel off the old labels (sometimes several layers deep) and see where a book has traveled during the 83 years it may have sat here. (OK, I may be taking a bit of artistic license; I doubt too many volumes have been hanging around Green Fields for that long, but I can assure you that plenty on our shelves have been here since the 1970's. And I know this because in the old days books were checked out using a card glued to the inside cover, that physical card still bearing the names and dates of students who used it and when. Many of these cards are still present on inside covers, for yet another archaeological expedition.)
Modern GF librarians have a task that is appreciably harder than the originals did, if only for the sheer number of volumes we must now caretake. It took many years to build this collection that now exceeds 20,000 titles! For this extraordinary collection of materials, we place, record, manage and plan. Preserving the past is an oddly active role which can feel overwhelming at times, but it also produces indescribable delights.
Chief among the benefits I've enjoyed as a librarian this year was engaging with this collection in a close way and finding incredible volumes that simple CANNOT have been properly appreciated. Sometimes these are languishing away in a strange unpredictable space; sometimes, they are slim dull volumes tucked up next to flashier modern books with the glossy photographs and probably do not get seen even when someone does venture into the stacks. It will be my pleasure to share these delights with the community -- through this book blog -- and remind you that these are volumes that circulate! (i.e. you may check them out).
Here is our first featured book, from the vault:
Entitled "Cabrillo's Log," this slim parchment-colored volume with sepia ink font caught my eye right away, because I used to live in California and I'd heard the name Cabrillo many times as a place name. When they say "log", they mean it. This is a summary of diary entries literally made by Cabrillo himself during the voyage of exploration and discovery his team undertook up the California coast. If that doesn't quite sound impressive enough, should I mention that the voyages took place in 1542 - 1543?! The volume Green Fields Library owns was published in 1968 by the Cabrillo Historical Association of San Diego and from the look of the card on the front inside cover (you know about those), has never been checked out.
Yet, it describes occurrences like this: "While they were at the cape of Santa Maria they went on land for water, and found a lagoon of sweet water, of which they took some. Here they found Indians to the number of forty, with bows and arrows, but the could not communicate with them. The Indians came naked, bringing magui [i.e. a form of the agave plant] roasted to eat, and fish; they were a large people. The Spaniards took possession of the land, ad stayed on this cape until Monday."
The whole volume is just 20 pages, including the map of California locations mentioned and a great chart with actual dates for the various stops.
And here it sits. In the stacks. At "910.92 PAE" to be exact.