Posts Tagged ‘conundrums’


Book waiting to be discarded

While most people hate to think that libraries throw away books, with the limited shelf space that libraries have, weeding and discarding books are an unavoidable task. Recycling and donating are great, but what if your library has limited funds and you can’t get to a drop-off point?

We were looking into Books Through Bars, which donates certain books to prison libraries, but between their restrictions and the fact that we’d have to bring all the books ourselves to Brooklyn, this wasn’t feasible.

Now we’re checking out Better World Books, a for-profit organization that pays for all shipping costs, and has a good history of both recycling and donating books to a series of non-profits. As a student, I bought very high quality discarded library copies from Better World Books at reasonable prices. The student sustainability committee here has teamed up with BWB for the end of the semester, providing book drop-off boxes for students who don’t want to lug their books home.

While I have my qualms about teaming up with a for-profit organization, it might be nice to get some money back for the books we can’t keep. At the same time, many of our books are in too poor a condition to be donated to BWB. So what else is there? I wish I could go to Radical Reference’s event on Discards and De-accession on Monday, but I’m busy.


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The main problem that I find myself continuously running into while answering reference questions on the Internet Public Library (IPL) is the kinds of references I have to use. I always go to databases, print materials, all of these paid subscriptions since that’s what I learned to search

The IPL is a public library, and doesn’t use subscription databases. I get very frustrated having to limit my initial searching to the free stuff. I’ll use Google Scholar, which in itself is free although many of its results are not free, and have to skip these great articles in favor of the free ones. I can’t even check JSTOR, or ERIC because I just want to use those materials.

I don’t know what I’d do if actually working in a public library. I feel stripped of my search skills! I suppose this is why I plan on staying in Academic libraries. Has anyone else who worked in public libraries dealt with this? How did you manage it?

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If one discovers an ancient dead fly smushed and preserved nicely in the book one is cataloging, does one catalog it? We catalog all illustrations, pagination discrepancies, so shouldn’t we note that on f. 77 there is a dead fly near the phrase “arbitrium est” in Seneca’s “de ira”?

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Since we already catalog physical description and condition, maybe we should start expanding to other categories outside the realm of sight and touch. The one I’m thinking of in particular is that of smell. Books all have very distinct smells, and what sent me on this tangent is – once again – the Anabaptist manuscript. Half of the book smells of woodsmoke, but the other half smells rather like a New York subway station. I would like to include this in my record, perhaps as a warning to those sticking their noses too close to the book in order to look at watermarks, but there’s no field for scent. Maybe it’s time to change the system…

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I’ve been working on this manuscript on Anabaptists in Muenster for a couple of days now, and am just about finished. I follow a certain pattern when cataloging a manuscript:

  • pagination/foliation
  • physical description
  • title/author/table of contents/provenance, etc.
  • summary
  • and finally, subject headings and genre terms.

Doing an initial foliation can be extremely helpful, not simply because you need page numbers when writing the rest of your description, but that it allows you to become acquainted with your manuscript, which can be especially good if the manuscript is daunting for some reason or another (most likely due to paleography). Subject headings come last as they are the most difficult – you have to break down the essence of a work to a few preordained terms and descriptor phrases (e.g.: one of the Library of Congress subject headings I’ve chosen for this one is Anabaptists–Germany–Muenster in Westfalen–History. Generally an “early works to 1800” gets tacked on, but this category is specific enough that I feel it would limit my record too much).

This particular manuscript is causing me some problems due to a few inherent issues. Written as a history, it ought to be impartial, yet it ends up completely trashing both the Anabaptists and Lutherans of the time. The author, it turns out, lived in Muenster during the Anabaptist uprising, and both he and his parents were banished from the city by the Anabaptists, so I’m not surprised he has some pent-up, not-so-hidden anger against them.


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