Browsing in LC

Browsing

Most learning experiences are hard to quantify. After you’ve learned a new skill, it seems like something you’ve always known, something not particularly important.

Library of Congress call numbers were like this for me: I learned them when I arrived at the community college, because all I needed to know to get through my undergraduate degree was that the call numbers are read in a block, not number by number. After a year of pretending for the sake of alternately angry and petrified freshman that really, LC isn’t so bad, I managed to convince myself the same. There’s not much to it, really. If you squint at it sideways it even makes sense!

Fast forward to today, when I was researching a Spanish-language poet in a university library. Browsing takes on a whole new meaning in an institution that could hold the entirety of my community college library, reading spaces and all, a dozen times over. I had one call number and the firm belief that I, as a librarian, would either use my mad librarian skillz or my wide stubborn streak to find what it was I needed.

Upon arrival, I remembered that titles are a lot harder to read when half are sideways top to bottom, half are sideways bottom to top, half are in Spanish, and half are in English. And the Spanish literature section could eat my college’s English literature section. But the logic (feel free to snort derisively) of the call numbers is the same. My call number described a single lonely book about my author, but by reading sideways one way and then the other I oriented myself to the collection and browsed along to the books I needed. For the record, I think it was 50% skillz, 50% stubborn.

Finally, I felt like all those trips to the Poe section lit crit with the community college students were worth it: here’s how to use the reference books, now let’s do the circulating collection, here’s your limit of items, off to circulation you go. And again. And again. Now I can find literature criticism in LC too.

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