Counting books at the Pendlebury

You’d be forgiven for wondering what everyone in the world of academic libraries are up to during the summer months. And while it is a quiet time when it comes to user numbers, there’s still always heaps to do, including preparation for the year ahead, as well as all the tasks that would be too disruptive to do at any other time of year. 

Perhaps the biggest of these is our annual shelf-check, which involves checking every item in the library’s collection one-by-one. As you might imagine, this is a big task and requires the whole team for an entire week. But it’s an important part of the yearly routine and helps keep the collection in good order, flagging up any lost, misplaced or damaged items. I’m sure we can all agree, it’s incredibly frustrating not being able to find something that says it should just be on the shelf, and the main aim of the shelf-check is to help prevent exactly that.

Because this is something that takes place behind closed doors, I thought perhaps people might like to know a little about what it is we’re up to.

First, lists are generated of everything that should technically be on the shelves. These are then checked by hand against everything that’s actually there, and any discrepancies are recorded for later investigation. It’s also a good chance to get a general sense of the state of the collection, as well as ensuring everything is in order on the shelf. You might be amazed at how easily something being in even slightly the wrong place could lead to it being entirely out-of-action for long periods of time.

Once we’ve done this initial stage, it’s time to don our deer-stalkers and begin the sleuthing required to locate all of the missing items. This can sometimes be straightforward, and a quick check of the system reveals where the item has got to, but at other times can be much more involved, and a long digital trail must be followed in order to unravel the mystery…

But it’s not all just work work work, as this week has also included a long-overdue opportunity for a staff picnic. This was actually rather momentous as it’s the first time the Cambridge music libraries teams from both the Pendlebury and the University Library have all met in person since Christmas 2019!

And for comparison’s sake, here’s a photo from the last time everyone was able to meet, roughly one pandemic ago.


About jamesluff

Senior library assistant at the Pendlebury Library of Music, University of Cambridge
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