October 08, 2003
Library Love

As those who have known me for multiple years know, I have a deep love for libraries, both the use, operation, and amassing of them.

This evening I had an experience with our local library system that again reminded me why they are such wonderful places, not just because of the contents, but because of the people that make up that content.

I had a particular book I wanted to take a look at, City Comforts by David Sucher (I have some passing interest in urban affairs, living in a city and loving my neighborhood, and not just because we have the cutest L stop in the world (at least, until the construction begins - at that point, all bets are off), but because it's just a swell place).

So I look the book up in the library's OPAC on the web, and find a record for the book that is a bit confusing. Undaunted, I head down to the main branch after work.

Now, it's here that the human factors of the Harold Washington Library Center elude me. The floors are labeled by subject area (Science, Social Sciences, Literature, etc), not by Library of Congress code, which is how I both think of subject collections (damaged by five years of library work in college), and how the books are generally referenced in the catalog. But I make a lucky guess of the sixth floor, and head to the call number section, which matches not at all. Instead of urban affairs, I find a small collection of books on government works (The Public Works of Lyndon B Johnson did, I will admit, catch my eye).

I head over to the Social Sciences reference desk, where after a brief sojourn on queue, I'm very helpfully assisted by the librarian. She looks up the title a second time, notes that it is actually a Municipal Doc number, not a regular holding. She then goes the extra step of politely enquiring why I was interested in the book, where I had heard of it, and so forth - a discreet and capable reference interview. Then, to fulfill my desires for the book as best she can, she pulls up WorldCat and locates other libraries in the area that have the book in their collection for my Inter-Library Loan request, should I choose to make one. But she reminds me that my next stop should be the municipal documents collection, one floor down.

So I go there, where the brief introduction to the search repeats itself, but only briefly. Upon looking at the record, this librarian can tell me the whole story. It turns out that a while ago the City of Chicago closed their governmental municipal library, depositing the entirety of it with the Chicago Public Library system, in the municipal collection, which houses other local government publications (akin to the federal government documents). At which point these new documents were integrated into the existing collection, but the books and other resources from the city library are being handled on a department by department basis. And timelines, budgets and conflicts and constraints being what they are, that has proceeded glacially. So the book I want is probably at the library, but in a box in the basement somewhere, awaiting recovery.

I left empty handed but happy. I didn't get the book I wanted, but I had a wonderful experience working with the librarians on duty, learned a bit more about my city, and with a clear set of next steps. It isn't something I can read about on the train, but it is something I can be pleased with.

And really, isn't that what those of us who interact and serve other people every day should strive for? Forget the takeaway slideshow prints from a presentation, what if each time we met someone we both went away thinking and being intrigued, having learned something new?

Posted by esinclai at October 08, 2003 06:53 PM |

Very well put Eric.

Posted by: Greg Scher on October 9, 2003 11:22 AM
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