If you’ve ever been in a library with a genealogy collection, you’ve probably seen signs that say, “Do Not Reshelve the Books.” There’s a good reason why you shouldn’t reshelve genealogy books… and it’s probably not the reason you think.
What Goes Through Our Minds
You’re a smart person. You can read the call number on the spine of the book. You know where it goes on the shelf…
You’re also a helpful person. You’ve used soooooo many books and the library is short-staffed… so you want to help out and put the books back…
Don’t do it.
The reason the “Do Not Reshelve” sign is there isn’t because the librarians don’t think you can figure out where to put the books back on the shelf. (Ok, it isn’t the only reason… ) There’s a much bigger reason why the books you use need to stay out.
The Real Reason
The real reason is a pesky thing called library statistics. Librarians need to keep track of things like the number of reference questions asked and the number of books checked out. Why? It boils down to this:
Statistics = money.
In this day of ever-tightening library budgets, librarians need to justify like never before the money they request for their departments. It isn’t enough to say, “Genealogy is important” and expect to get any budget. They have to quantify the usage of the materials in the department.
Since most genealogy collections don’t circulate (meaning you can’t check out a book and take it home), the genealogy librarians can’t count regular circulation stats like other departments. That’s where asking people not to reshelve the books comes in.
Librarians can count the number of books used when they reshelve them. This becomes their “circulation” count or “usage” count. If you reshelve the book, they can’t count it. And if they can’t count it, it’s that much less that they can use to justify their budget request.
These statistics also help librarians spend their budget in ways that improve the collection. If they see that a lot of books from a particular state or county are heavily used, that’s a signal that there’s interest in that area. When it comes time to buy books, the librarians look at those stats to identify which areas have the most interest.
“We Know You’re Able, But Leave Them On the Table”
You mean well and you just want to help out. The best way you can help your genealogy librarian with the books is to leave them on the table or the return cart. Leaving the books to be reshelved allows them to be counted — and those numbers help make things better.