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Why Can’t It Just Show Me Where the Book Is?

Last week I made a regular visit to my public library. I was picking up a book I’d had on hold for a few weeks–Her Fearful Symmetry (which is excellent–so far). After picking up my book from the convenient self-serve patron hold shelf, I decided to search for a few other novels that had been on my to-read list.

At the catalog terminal next to me were a mother and her daughter searching for their next best read. After muddling through their search for a minute or two, the mother finally found the record for the book she wanted to check out. You’d think she’d be happy to find the motivation behind her searching, but instead I heard this:

Ugh. Why do I have to click “Details” to find the call number for this book. It’s so annoying. Why can’t it just tell me where the book is.

A fair point.

Sure, I could have told her that the online catalog is shared between public libraries in three counties and that the location and availability of the book will differ depending on each library’s holdings, but I kept quiet. I didn’t want to be “that patron” (aka, the one that walks around recommending books to people unasked and explains library classification systems to frustrated searches). But mostly I didn’t think my explanation was good enough. So what if it’s a shared catalog. Can’t the OPAC have a filter on it that will only display the books location in the library the computer is house in, along with a little note that says “also available at other libraries?”

My knee jerk reaction when people criticize a library’s catalog is to say that they just don’t understand how to use it, but after a minute or two of librarian self-righteousness I begin to think: The catalog should be self-explanatory, not a source of frustration.

The mother and daughter ultimately found the book they needed (I saw them at the self-check-out station a few minutes later), but I wonder if their experience with the catalog won’t give them a slightly annoyed attitude towards the library from now on.

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