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Brief Fun

January 10, 2005

Our brief fun with arranging the New Book section by color ended a week ago. After the deed was done, Marilyn tried to survey users.

Four people had selected books but not noticed the arrangement. One noticed immediately and liked it. Another came in, paused in front of the shelves, then turned and left before Marilyn could say anything.

So we don’t know if the sudden exit constituted a vote or not. But that evening foreshadowed our experience over the next 12 working hours of the display. The shelves were back to normal by 6:00 p.m. Monday.

We cut the display short for one reason: We were annoying at least one out of ten patrons. If 90% had loved it, I might have let the other 10% suffer another day, but most people didn’t even notice.

We’d had our fun — and it was great fun. Really. Sorting the colors, fine-tuning their arrangement, discussing what to do with multi-colored spines.

We speculated on how Nancy could catalog by color: Would she use official Lands End colors, with names such as Sea Foam? Vic suggested the Pantone color guide, an esoteric tome stored in the library’s Annex that hollow-eyed artists might pore over.

I had no idea whether or not we would annoy anyone, but I’m almost glad we did — not for the sake of causing irritation but for the reminder about something.

Despite the fact that we’ve seen many changes in the last decade, the library is a predictable institution. Users know, for the most part, what to expect. Each has his or her own relationship with the library — unique patterns, expectations, and desires.

We try to accommodate every user’s needs, even though that is an improbable end. There are too many variables, not least human psychology. But we can strive for it and maybe get lucky.

Becky reported that at the end of 2004, we had only one unfilled interlibrary loan request outstanding (out of more than 1,000). That’s a first, and pretty close to the goal of perfection.

I actually like the library being such a comfortable part of our patrons’s works and days that the loss of the usual order on the New Book shelves was an uncomfortable hitch. We won’t do it again.

I get annoyed when stores move their inventory around, so you’d think I would have been more sensitive. However, one patron pointed out that she probably never would have discovered one delightful book except that it was in the “white section” that had caught her eye.

This brings to mind recent talk about the role of libraries in our society and, in particular, the end of libraries as inferred from funding troubles around the nation and the likes of the Google project to digitize the holdings of several large libraries and put them on the Internet.

It might happen some day. Libraries as large cooperative purchasing projects will continue as long as people wish to share things this way, or as long as there are things to share.

Eventually, if all content in our culture is distributed digitally, and digital copyright prevents libraries from participating in that distribution, and nothing remains for libraries to collect and share, then perhaps libraries will disappear.

If taxpayers, or other payers, don’t want to pay for libraries, that would pretty much spell “The End.”

In any case, this library’s annual circulation went over 100,000 for the first time in 2004, and it was an enjoyable year, as well. Thanks. —

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