I am writing to express my concern for the serious need in the James Branch Cabell Library for more staff to help with shelving books. My recent experience may point up how extreme this need is. On December 9 I returned 5 or 6 books that I had been using for a project. Because I would not have time to work on the project until after the holidays, I thought it best to return the books in case another patron might need one of them. On January 10 I returned to the library to find the books and get back to my project. When I reached the 4th floor (I am using art books) I was shocked at the level of disarray I found: the reshelving shelves were overflowing, books were stacked on the floor, books had been jammed sideways on top of books that were shelved (these were not even in the area of the correct call number), the shelves were in total disarray. None of the books I had returned were on the shelf even though all showed as being available for circulation. In a last shot effort, I checked the shelving station on the 3rd floor. There I found most, but not all of the books I had returned. It was clear that in a month's time they had never made it back to the shelf. While I understand that staff is reduced when the students leave for the holidays, this experience only points out something that is ALWAYS a problem. The state of the stacks, especially in the art section, is always a serious mess. Not only are the shelves physically a mess, but far too many volumes are badly misshelved. These books are as good as lost. Frequently when I look for volumes that show up in the catalog as being available, the book cannot be found at all. If I come in with a list of books, it is not unusual to be unable to locate half of the books. I have some experience working in an academic library, and I have been a patron of both academic and public libraries. I have never found a library that is more frustrating to use that the James Branch Cabell Library. Thank you for taking time to read of my experience. I hope this account will be useful.
Cabell Library depends on students to reshelve books in the library. While we hired the same number of students in the fall semester as we did last year, fewer of them worked in December and January. This led to backlogs you describe. Last fall we did not experience any reshelving backlogs at all during December and January. We employ one full time person for the stacks. Additional full time staff would lead to more stable reshelving patterns and we hope to add to the full-time staff in the near future.
The Arts Collection (N-NX and TR) is a heavily browsed and circulated collection. Much of the misshelving is due to overcrowded conditions in the stacks. The Libraries does not want to reduce user space to add shelving so we are transferring duplicates to keep the crowded shelves under control. If there is a specific book you are looking for, please complete the Item Request Form at http://www.library.vcu.edu/forms/itemreq.html. This form initiates a search and a replacement decision if the book is missing. You will be notified when the book is available.
We hope you have a positive experience at Cabell Library this semester!
Head, Preservation Dept