Feb 122012
Authors: Elisabeth Willner

Here are some books you couldn’t read at Morgan Library last week: “No One Here Gets Out Alive,” a biography of Jim Morrison, “Writing Under the Influence,” a book about alcoholic writers and “An Introduction to Quantum Theory” by F. S. Levin.

The problem wasn’t that the library didn’t have these books, or even that someone else had checked them out; these three books were missing. A patron tried to check them out, but couldn’t find them on the shelves.

More than 1,000 books go missing in the Morgan Library every year, and with the current upheaval of the collection due to remodeling, that number has been going up.

Whereas in 2010 only 1,024 books went missing, in 2011 the number rose by almost 500 books.

“The construction has forced us to move the collection around, and books have gotten misplaced,” explained Oscar Raab, the manager of Access Services at Morgan Library. “That’s the nature of the volume that we’re moving.”

The books marked as missing in library records have diverse reasons for becoming unavailable: some get misplaced as the library re-organizes; others get carried accidentally or on purpose out of the library.

But how many fall into each category, no one really knows.

“It’s hard for us to tell –– of these missing books –– which ones are misshelved versus which have been removed,” Raab said.

Take for instance “Writing Under the Influence.” The Collegian discovered it wasn’t on the shelf, put in a request for the book, and after a day, the library had recovered it, suggesting that it had merely been misplaced.

Still, each year anywhere from 20 to 200 books might disappear, and the library must decide whether to replace them. This means that potentially, old books must sometimes be re-purchased.

According to Christopher Sugnet, the assistant dean of scholarly communications, not all missing books get replaced, and since no distinction is made when the library replaces a book rather than purchasing a new one, just how much of an impact those books have isn’t clear.

“We don’t systematically replace every lost or stolen book, instead we ask our subject specialists to make decisions based on importance to CSU programs, other available copies in our collection, and general availability of a replacement book at a fair price,” Sugnet said in an email to the Collegian. “It also matters if we have been reimbursed for a lost book. Unfortunately we don’t get reimbursed for the stolen ones.”

The process for finding books works based on patron requests. When a patron can’t find a book, they report it to the loan/reserve desk. A search then ensues: an employee of the library checks the place where the book is supposed to be, then looks through nearby shelves and areas with similar numbers.

If the book still can’t be found, it stays as “missing” on the library website for six months. After that, it’s considered lost. For patrons, that means sometimes forgoing books they’d like to read.

Cashel McGloin, an anthropology graduate student, said that over the summer she wanted to read a book called “Bonk: the curious coupling of science and sex” about the sex industry in the United States. Since it was missing, she never checked it out.

McGloin checks out books for research, as well, and she said she encounters quite a few missing ones. Every sixth or seventh book she tries to check out is missing, a number she thinks is much higher than most other libraries she has used.

She said she sees a pattern of which books disappear.

“Do I think a book called ‘Bonk’ about sexuality in America was removed [on purpose]? I think someone probably thought it was pretty good — yeah. A book on American anthropology? Probably not,” McGloin said.

To help curb theft, part of the remodeling plan for the library included moving the alarm gates farther from the main entrance and closer to the loan/reserve desk. Switching to more electronic resources could also help solve the problem, according to Raab.

For the misplaced books, Raab said that once construction is complete, the library will go through all the books that have been moved to make sure things are in order. He said overall, very few books go missing.

“When you consider the size of the collection, it’s a very small percentage that turn up missing, and there’s an understanding that they’re hopefully going to turn up,” said Raab, who calculated the total books missing per year was less than .07 percent.

As for the books mentioned above, at press time “Bonk” had reappeared on its own, “Writing Under the Influence” was on hold at the loan/reserve desk, but quantum mechanics and Jim Morrison’s biography were still at large.

Collegian writer Elisabeth Willner can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Missing Book Statistics
Missing books in 2011: 1,500
Number recovered each month: 100-150
Time until a missing book is considered lost: 6 months
Amount spent per year replacing lost books: approximately $63*
*Less than 1 percent of the total collections budget of $6,331,763

Some Currently Missing Books
The pop-up book of invasions – Fiona Farrell
Anatomy of an epidemic: magic bullets, psychiatric drugs, and the astonishing rise of mental illness in America – Robert Whitaker
An introduction to quantum theory -F. S. Levin
Save the cat! : the last book on screenwriting you’ll ever need – Blake Snyder
No one here gets out alive: The Biography of Jim Morrison – Jerry Hopkins
Tahiti Tattoos – Gian Paolo Barbieri
Reading comics: how graphic novels work and what they mean – Douglas Wolk
How the Water Feels to the Fishes – Dave Eggers

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