I really want to like libraries, but so often I find them intensely irritating. Today has been a day filled with library-based irritation. In fact some of it has been so silly you couldn’t make it up:

I am trying to get copies of a journal article from 1869 and a Geological Survey book from 1919. The later has been OCR’d by someone and I have a copy, but the tables are a mess and I really need the page numbers for referencing.

The book is listed in a local library, with a classmark and ‘on shelf’ status. I go to the shelf, and it’s not there. I go to the desk, and ask an assistant whether I should report it missing and how long ago it was last taken out.

“Oh, it looks like we don’t have a copy anymore.”
“At all?”
“No, sorry. Not for years.” She looks at me expectantly, I think she wants me to go.
“But I’ve looked at the public catalogue and it’s listed on the shelf, do you think you should delete…”
“Well I’ve just looked in our catalogue and we don’t have a copy. Sorry I couldn’t help you.” She definitely wants me to go.
“Yes I know that, don’t you think you should delete it from the public catalogue so people don’t keep thinking you have it?”

At this point I leave before I say something impolite. But it’s okay, as I know the British Library have a copy. Now I don’t usually go to the BL as I tend to find it hot, crowded, impossible to find a seat and with all the bag checks, laptop checks, and photocopying rules they make me feel like a criminal. But I appreciate the sentiment of the place and so I give it a go.

I try to use the online ordering system. The online system tells me there is a ‘problem’ with the journal I want (though it seems to be trying to order more than a hundred years of  it) and I need ‘permission’ for the book. There is no indication of what this actually means.

Not to be put off, ten minutes later I’m at the BL, and at the front desk I ask where I should go to get help ordering. The lady tells me I can use the phone to ring customer services. No, they don’t have an actual person I could see.

I use the phone. The service assistant tells me I need the exact name of the book, but I persuade her that knowing the classmark really should be good enough. Eventually we get there, and then she tells me I need to order it in person at the Social Sciences desk upstairs.

Then she tells me the journal I want has been embargoed because it’s in a stores area where asbestos has been found. It might be release next year.

Really, I didn’t make that up! That’s the truth!

But I can still pursue the book. However I have to go downstairs and put my bag in a locker first because you can’t take bags into the reading rooms and the Social Sciences order desk in inside the Reading Room. I try to do that, but I don’t have a pound coin and the change machine is broken so I have to queue for 15mins to use the cloakroom, and then I have to carry laptop and everything with me because the cloakroom doesn’t actually have anywhere secure to put bags.

Upstairs in the Reading Room I try to persuade the man on the desk I need him to order something for me. It takes three attempts to get him to stop directing me to the online catalogue, the last attempt bordering on the rude: “You’ll have to get to grips with it sooner or later!”

After I have assured him I am capable of using the catalogue, and I have already spoken to customer services, he actually stops to listen to me.

He tells me I have to fill out a paper form and give it to him to get the book I want. That’s right, a paper form.With carbon paper and everything.

By this time it’s not clear whether I’ll receive any notification that the book has arrived, which won’t be until next week but may take longer, but they will only keep it for three days.

So after about two hours I have one missing book in the local library with an untouchable catalogue entry, one embargoed journal that I won’t be able to get until next year due to asbestos, and one book which I had to fill out a paper form to order and which I might see next week if we can get our schedules to coincide.

Let’s hope I have more luck with inter-library loans… otherwise I may never see any of these things!

Edit – another star libray experience!  Talking ‘live online’ with a university library help desk regarding getting the journal through inter-library loan. Apparently if the journal is ‘loanable’ then it can be loaned to me.

However the librarian couldn’t check this on the catalogue, she had to look at the physical book itself! I don’t know what kind of system that university is running, but sounds old.

Would have been funny if the stores hadn’t have been closed, and therefore no answer on the ‘loanability’ of my journal. Fingers-crossed for an email tomorrow…


One thought on “Library shenanigans: asbestos, embargoes and untouchable catalogues

  1. I hate the British Library. I know researchers are supposed to love it, but it’s a terrible experience all round at the moment. They could do things about that, but they don’t seem to want to, alas.

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