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To reshelve books or not to reshelve…that is the question

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image of the reference desk in Genealogical Services

Have you ever wondered why there are so many signs in libraries? If you have visited Genealogical Services, you’ve probably noticed all the signs around the room. Signs to inform patrons of the cost of copies, signs about computer use, signs to inform patrons of what is on the shelves, and finally, signs about placing books that have been used on the carts at the end of aisles. Why do we not want patrons reshelving books after using them? It may not be what you think.

Each book has a barcode on it that is unique to that book (not including periodicals, which have 1 barcode for the whole series). The barcode is connected to a database that gives information on the book. We ask that patrons not reshelve books so that we can scan them for statistics. This tells us a couple of things. First, it tells us how many of our materials are being used. That is very important to know. It shows those who are interested in numbers that our collection is being used. It also tells us what titles are being used. This can help us in purchasing new books. 

I have a somewhat funny and personal story to share about this. I have been doing research in Genealogical Services since 1998. I started working in Genealogical Services in 2010. I’ll admit that between those years, I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand why we needed to put the books on carts. I had a part-time job as a student at the college library shelving books – 10-20 hours a week I reshelved books for a living. I quickly learned the call number system for Genealogical Services and I really thought I was helping by reshelving everything I used. I must have reshelved hundreds of books during those 12 years. A few times before  I started working in the Government & Heritage Library in another branch, I was stopped and asked by staff not to reshelve books, but it was never explained why. I thought, “What’s the harm? I know where they go and I know I’m putting them in the right spot, and I’m trying to help decrease their work by shelving them.”  That all may have been true, but those hundreds of books I used were never scanned for statistics. 

We, in Genealogical Services, understand that you may know where the book goes, but request that books be placed on the carts when visiting our library.  I do hope you come visit us! Of course if you cannot come, feel free to contact Genealogical Services for a look up in our books.

One Comment

  1. […] employee from the State Library of North Carolina explains the usual “Do Not Reshelve” sign from the perspective of an expert user: “I […]

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