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 Why Is It?
or Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Libraries, but....
by Candace Miller
Reference Librarian

My mother taught me to pick up after myself, but when I go to the library I see signs telling me not to re-shelve the books.  What's up with that? 

This is one of those rare time when you should ignore Mom's teachings.  Most libraries arrange books on the shelves according to call numbers.  Cataloguers (those people who assign call numbers) don't pull these numbers out of a hat.  There are all kinds of rules and regulations involved in determining a call number.  Let's just say that, in general, a book's subject matter will determine its call number.  So all books about widget technology will be shelved in the same area.  Are you with me so far?

One important thing to remember is that in a given library, every book will have a unique call number.  No two books will have the exact same call number.  In general, the bigger the library is, the longer and more complex the call numbers on the books.  Many people have trouble deciphering call numbers.  If you don't read the call number correctly then you can easily put the book back in the wrong place.  For all practical purposes, an incorrectly shelved book is lost.  If the book isn't where LEO says it should be, then the next person who needs to read the book can't find it.

When you incorrectly shelve a book at home, you only need to eyeball all of the books in your bookcase until you located the stray volume.  But libraries might have thousands or even millions of books. So it is a lot harder to find books once they have been shelved incorrectly.  For this reason we ask that patrons not re-shelve the book themselves.  However, patrons are by all means welcome, even urged, to pick up after themselves in other ways.  By all means, feel free to throw away your crumpled paper, used kleenex, etc. 

E-mail comments and questions to:
clarkeke@jmu.edu

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