Commentary | Remember when your mom would make you clean the house because visitors were coming?

As a visitor to McGill, I share in a frustration, frequently overheard at the library, as students are unable to find books that should be on the shelf.  In my own borrowings, a full third of the books I look for are unlocatable. Casual conversation with the librarians makes clear that this is a frustration shared by librarians, and I have been told that at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, it sometimes takes over a month for a returned book to be reshelved. Part of the problem seems to be that the library has funding to hire only half the students that they’ve hired in previous years to reshelve books. This backlog exacerbates a general mishandling of materials – not only are books misshelved in what must be a mad rush by overwhelmed workers to return books to circulation, but it is not uncommon to find books on the shelf that have either not been entered into the new catalog system, or that remain listed, in the catalog, as “on order.”  A misshelved book can be lost for years and academic books, even if they are still in print, are expensive. The impressive (and valuable) collection at McGill is seriously diminished by the false economy of skimping on the necessary costs of maintaining an orderly library.

Daniel Wilson
Cornell University (PhD candidate)


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