Books may not seem to be fickle creatures, but—as is the case with most supposed innocents—they only begin to show their true colours after you have known them a while. Books are simply not to be trusted. I have known offenders, clearly labeled as belonging to the QC (Physics) category, who have, without so much as filling out a change of address form, taken up residence on an HQ (Sociology, specifically Marriage & Family) shelf. Social mobility is all well and good, but there are limits to decorum that ought not to be tried. Other miscreants, showing an even more blatant disregard for the law, have been known to lie down lengthwise on a shelf end in broad fluorescent light! Every day I find contingents of the malcontents stacked stealthily in corners, surely planning to waylay unsuspecting wanderers. A Search Request, then, is my chance to strike fear into the dusty, high-strung hearts of the mob, while reminding the innocents that all is under control.
A Search Request, for the uninitiated, is a request placed by a library patron when an item is inexplicably not in its proper place on the shelf when a patron goes looking. When such a request comes in, I feel all the pressure of defying chaos, satisfying my own pride, and placating my OCD. I square my shoulders, toss my head, snort and paw the ground inside my head because snorting attracts negative attention in a library, and mutter, “challenge accepted.”
Ideally, a wandering book will be found on its first day out of place and carried to its proper home after being brought by the front desk for a check-up and debrief. It is possible, however, that, through human error or due to the cruel hand of fate, one or two will be deposited on alien ground. For a lonely lost book, there are almost endless places to take shelter. The Stacks form a veritable mountain range of crannies, cascades, and lofty peaks. The elite Reference Force on the main floor is not so exclusive as to turn away a weary traveler, but its labyrinthine habitat is hardly conducive to escape. Even the friendly and well-lit Curriculum Square has its dangers: high traffic and overpopulation make it all too easy for a country-raised book to disappear.
I do not pretend to be equal to the challenge of tracking down every book that the fates and harried students see fit to scatter, but of human error I am something of a connoisseur, and so I do my best to first trace and then rectify the damage done. When we—my fellow workers and I— search for a lost book, the best method is usually to follow the prescribed steps which wiser and more experienced authorities have set down for just such moments of crisis. First, we do extensive research into the book’s background. What are its habits and interests? Does it often travel? Has it been known to fall off the grid from time to time or is this the first time it has gone missing? Next, we interview the family and friends of the book and search their shelves. It is not uncommon to find a book, ashamed of damage sustained or unable to face the daily pressure of presenting a brave face to the public, cowering behind its most trusted companions. [In several extreme cases, family members have cruelly suppressed books for reasons that remain a tragic mystery. In 1970, the famous case entitled, “Lib. on behalf of Nobody Knows My Name (or E185.61.B197) vs. The E conspiracy,” set a controversial precedent which allows investigators to search without warning or warrant.] When the book’s family has cleared its background check and all personal information finally becomes known, the search begins in earnest. A description of the book’s appearance circulates. We take every precaution and then we must search, section by section, week after week, hoping to catch the faintest glimmer of a clue.
To be continued...