This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, February 6, 1991

February 6, 1991 - The stacks are alive

A lot of people still see libraries as nice, quiet places where books reside in stately somnolence and splendor. Libraries ARE nice. But quiet? Depends on the time of day and whether or not we've got any children's programs cooking. Sleepy tomes on dusty shelves? No way! The collection of a well-used library is frisky as a streamful of trout.

Have you ever gone back to a particular section to find a book you checked out maybe a year ago, but when you got there, the whole area looked different? It's not that we're trying to confuse you. It's not even a merchandising trick, like in those department stores that move everything around at irregular intervals so you'll paw through everything in the store looking for the one little thing you just popped in for. The truth is more basic than that.

The bookstacks are alive.

Library books move around a lot. For one thing, people check them out. (It's a good thing, too. Most libraries couldn't store their books if they all came back at the same time.) Some of our books are at people's homes. Some of the books are temporarily stacked on library tables. Some of them are on book carts waiting to be reshelved. And more of our books than you might think wander aimlessly around the building. Somebody walks over to the cookbooks. She picks something, then strolls over to the poetry section. Once she gets there, she sets down the cookbook, takes two books of poetry and heads for the biographies. Once there, she sets down one book of poetry, picks up three biographies ...

This can result in some disorganization. But that's not necessarily bad. It can be frustrating to look for a book that's ambled off to the "wrong" part of the library. On the other hand, you might head purposefully into the carpentry books one day and come out with a book of Woody Allen short stories. Sometimes you find what you didn't know you were looking for. It's serendipity, which Robert A. Heinlein, the late great science fiction author, defined as "digging for worms and finding gold." Serendipity makes libraries interesting.

There's another way bookstacks act alive. They breathe. They expand and contract. For example, suppose there's an explosion of publishing activity in the health sciences. Suddenly, a nice, roomy section of books is too tight. The books start spilling over into other areas. At the other end of the cycle, books have to be culled from the shelves when they get too dated. This frees up space. Before too long - about once a year for most small to medium-sized libraries - the whole library has to be "shifted" to redistribute all the books throughout the available space.

Good libraries are like big families. Some of the books are like new kids just moving in, some like older kids moving out, and everybody changing rooms and closets from time to time.

The stacks are alive!

No comments:

Post a Comment