July 31, 2006
A View from the Stacks: Can We Rearrange The Library By Color?
Every once in a while, I find myself trying to answer a question about the library world that leaves the questioner more confused and myself a bit frustrated. Such was a time last Saturday night, when I tried to explain why my library chooses to use Library of Congress call numbers as a means of organization. Of course, this was nothing like the time that I erroneously explained the library catalog as a system of tubes, but I digress…
Last Saturday night, the temperature was still hovering around 80 degrees when my boyfriend and I were sitting in a club enjoying an extremely cold beer. (I feel the need to set this story up this way so you can all understand how a light conversation can turn so ugly, so quickly.) My boyfriend works at amazon.com, and we had somehow gotten on the topic of the amazon.com warehouse where all my goods live before making their way to my home after purchase. I wondered aloud “how do you organize all that mess?”
And so it began.
While there may be an infinite number of ways to organize things (I, for example, have all my spices arranged by amount of use, not alphabetically), I had never considered organizing sections of the library by color (for example) as a viable option. When I first started working in a law library, well over 4 years ago, we had stacks arranged by topic, but not necessarily in call number order. It worked for those who knew the library well, but could be confusing to those who stopped by for a one time use. When the library was displaced for a period of over a year due to a building remodel, the decision was made to rearrange the books by call number order and do away with “satellite sections” when we moved back to our original space.
But, on that hot Saturday night, my boyfriend did wonder aloud why organizing a library by color was not a viable option. By the end of the conversation, I had been accused of being “defensive” and he was on the hunt for another cold beer. While he was away from the table, I ran through my reasoning (consistency, ease of shelving, and universal appeal of the Library of Congress call numbers) and realized that I should have entertained his questions with a little more seriousness. Who is to say that one system is any better than another? Certainly not me, who enjoys color coding my closet in reverse rainbow order, despite the obvious confusion of having your pants and shirts spread out all over the place.
Later on, while walking home, I did concede that I was not completely sure why libraries choose one system of organization over another. This, I am hoping, will be something that I learn in library school. If anything, this knowledge will allow me to be better prepared for late Saturday-night discussions about library systems. This knowledge may also prevent me from sounding (on those rare occasions) defensive to people around me.
Stina McClintock, Library Technician, King County Law Library (Seattle).
Editor's Note: Boyfriend! Did I read "boyfriend?" Mongo very sad.
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