Life Lessons from the Library: Have a Plan for Looking for the Missing

Sometimes in a library, you have two opposite schools of thought on missing items. One is to never declare something lost or missing. Assume that it will be found or will turn up. The other is to declare it lost immediately, so students will know that an item is not available and won’t spend time trying to get it. The Jolly Librarian leans toward the second extreme but understands the first. After all, librarians often love mystery stories and television shows. We like to solve problems. And a missing book is a problem that not only needs to be solved but also makes us question our professional identity. After all, we’re librarians: we should know where our books are.

The Jolly Librarian has a reputation among some of her colleagues of being quite adept at finding books/films that have managed to go missing. This is only true because it bothers me that our catalog says something is available when it’s not. And I often spend time that would be better used elsewhere in a frustrating search.

But over the years, I have come up with some approaches that have made finding missing materials a little easier. They work for other, non-library  items as well:

  • I look around the area where the item should be. So if a book should be with its PS3535.87 friends, I look up and down that shelf to see if it has been misplaced.   
  • I check behind and in between. One of my more embarrassing encounters with my public library occurred when I received an overdue notice. As a library employee myself, I was sure that I would never have kept a book overdue; besides, it wasn’t in my bookcase or my bedside table, the two places where books might be. I was adamant in my innocence. Until the day, I happened to be sitting on the couch, dropped a piece of candy, and slid my hand between the cushions to retrieve it. There was the book. And, yes, I do know that this says volumes about the state of my housekeeping. But now, in my hunt for missing items, I search behind other items. And you’d be amazed at how easily a little book can slide right into the middle of a bigger book.
  • I look for logical connections between the item missing and something else. In the library, we shelve using the Library of Congress system. So if a book or CD goes missing, after looking on the shelf and behind the other CDs, I haven’t found it, then I look for the same number in other sections: DVDs, books, and reserve area behind the circulation desk. Reserve books can end up in stacks. Books that should be in stacks find their way to reference. Although they all have stickers saying where they should be, they can wander from their homes.
  • Finally, I set a time limit. In the library, after a certain amount of time searching, I check the book out to missing. If we find it, we can change the classification. This works for other thing as well. Last October, I lost my credit card in a restaurant. I paid for the meal, and the credit card was there. I went to my car, and it wasn’t. I immediately went back to the restaurant where they looked and saw nothing. I looked through my purse, my clothes, my car. Nothing. I returned to my office and emptied out my purse. Then I went to the bathroom and took off my clothes in case somehow my credit card had gotten itself entangled in one of my undergarments. Then I realized I had spent all the productive time I could spend on this search. I called American Express and canceled the card.

In life as in the library, things go missing. But with a plan and a clear head, you have a good chance of finding them. And if you don’t, you can at least give up the search with a feeling that you did all that could be done.

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