Election Section

Behind the Scenes at the Library: The Journey of a Book

By Phila Rogers, Special to the Planet
Thursday July 23, 2009 - 09:58:00 AM

When you visit the Berkeley Public Library you’ll see staff at the circulation desk, at the reference desk, and others who are shelving books. What you are less likely to see are all those library employees, mostly in offices on the second floor of the Central Library, who move a book along from the time it’s either requested by a patron or a librarian. These are the employees who select, order, catalog, and process the 50,000 items added to the library’s collection every year. 

First stop on a tour of this labyrinth of activity is the office of Marti Morec, the Collection Development librarian. A graduate of UC Berkeley’s Library School, Marti has been with the Berkeley Public Library since 1989, mostly in the Art and Music Department. “Though I loved working with the fabulous collection of recordings and books, I’ve also loved the last two years since I’ve stepped up to the exciting job of collection librarian. I still get a kick out of seeing a book arrive that I have steered through the whole process,” she adds. 

A cart of new books sits next to Marti’s office and on her desk are a number of periodicals (Library Journal, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly) along with newspaper book review sections. “All the librarians are responsible for suggesting titles to buy and, of course, we listen to our patrons. Knowing our community helps us select books,” she says.  

Marti coordinates patron requests, plus book selections made by a branch librarian and the Central Library book teams—each team focusing on a broad subject area. She also keeps a close eye on the book-buying budget and monitors the progress of the high-demand books. “Though it takes about four to six weeks from the time we order a book until it gets to the shelves, a hot item may be on the shelf in two weeks,” Marti adds. 

(The library also has an impressive collection of audio books, CDs, and movies, but books still make up the lion’s share of the library’s collections.) 

Marti electronically forwards the lists of suggested purchases to Technical Services, managed by librarian Megan McArdle. Tech Services includes four departments: Collection Development, Order, Cataloging, and Processing. 

In the Order Department, lists are further collated and the best sources determined for buying at particular item. The orders are sent off to an appropriate vendor or jobber using a computerized book ordering system. 

Delivery trucks deliver dozens of boxes of books daily, all of which are opened and the contents checked and rechecked to be sure that what is received is exactly what was ordered. 

A cart, groaning under the weight of two packed shelves of books, with tags sticking out of each book, is parked in front of Yvette Pleasent’s office. She is one of the three people receiving new books. An order tag sticking out of the top of a book titled The Banana Slug: A Close Look at a Giant Forest Slug of Western North America contains 16 items of information which Yvette enters into the library database. A red slip indicates that a patron has already put a hold on the book. (Patrons can check the library’s catalog for titles “on order.”)  

Once Yvette is satisfied that everything is in proper order she pays the bill electronically and Banana Slug, along with the other books, is rolled along into the Cataloging Department. 

“This is where a book is given a call number so it can be shelved with similar books,” says librarian Greg McKean. “A book is also given a bar-code and lots of other information about the book, some of which you see when you look up a book on a computer,” he adds.  

Finally, the book is off to its last stop on this complicated journey—to the Processing Department, a big cheery room with certain aspects of Santa’s workshop, well stocked with tools, labels, tapes, and packaging materials. Sam Zhang, the head of the Processing Department, says, “If a book is one that should remain in our collection but needs repair, we try and repair it here. ... With five employees, someone usually has the requisite skills.”  

At a work table, one employee affixes a mylar strip down the spine of a paperback book. A hardcover book is fitted with a protective cover, stamped “Berkeley Public Library” on the ends of the closed pages, and is given an electronic tag for circulation tracking and security. 

At another table, a technician tries to repair a spiral-bound Russian book, while another employee cleans a dirty CD. “If we can’t repair a book that is both valuable and irreplaceable, we send it to an outside bindery for repair,” says Sam.  

Processed books are finally loaded into crates for twice-daily transport to the branches or on to book carts for the trip to Central’s various departments. 

Now it’s up to the patron, checking out a book, to complete the journey. 


Note: If Banana Slug: A Close Look at a Giant Forest Slug of Western North America has captured your fancy, copies are available in the Children’s Library at both the Central Library and at the Claremont Branch. The call number is 594.3 H213b.