Monday, December 22, 2008

Bookstores and libraries

As anyone on Autocat knows, there's been a bunch of posting lately on the difference between bookstores and libraries, and how they organize things. I don't post on autocat much (that's what blogs are for!), so here's what I think:

Anyone who says that bookstores do as good a job as libraries of organizing information is clearly insane. I mean, CLEARLY. A comment was made that the reason we catalog is to a) list everything we have in the stacks and b) find what we're after in those stacks.

And here's the rub. Bookstores only help you find the books you already know you need. As in, I need a copy of Jane Eyre. It's in the Fiction section, under Bronte. Congratulations, now pay us $10.

Now, if I were to say instead "I need a piece of English literature, written in the early-to-mid 19th century, and focusing on romantic love," the bookstore will not help you. The bookstore will look at you blankly and say "literature? Aisle 2."

The comment that was made about "finding what we're after in the stacks" is all well and good, but it presupposes that you already know exactly what you're looking for. Libraries and library catalogs are not built on the presupposition that you know what you want. They're built on the idea that you *kind of* know what you want. If you know exactly what you want, great! That's so much easier. If you don't know, exactly, we have people and catalogs that give you lots of information on subjects so maybe you can find what you need in a relatively short amount of time.

So the whole debate on bookstores and libraries is a bit silly, because they don't serve the same purposes at all, and to say that bookstores perform the same organizational tasks as libraries is ludicrous, and patently untrue.
"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.