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Katie Fraser's blog and website

I'm an academic librarian, working in the UK Higher Educational sector, supporting academics and students. Prior to this, I was a researcher, working with social and learning technologies.

My interests include the application of emerging and traditional technologies, research support in libraries, learning spaces, evidence-based practice and the professional development of library and information workers.

You can find out more about more about me from the links to the left. Note that the views expressed on this website/blog are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other individual or organisation.

Lift out of order

March 11th, 2008

It’s funny how one little thing can throw a library into disorder. Throughout this month we’ve been having occasional problems with the lift. The Essex University library comes complete with an exciting paternoster: for those that haven’t encountered one, this is a scary-sounding continuously moving lift where cars travel round in a circle. Student can use this to get between floors by leaping on and leaping off at the appropriate floor. However, it’s not really sensible to get a book trolley onto a continuously moving lift car, so there’s also a nice sensible normal lift for staff with their trolleys, wheelchair users, and so on.

When there’s no proper lift, students can get around the library fine, thank to the paternoster (and, of course, the stairs: we’ve only got five floors). However, the lift is vital for getting books back to the appropriate floor for shelving, and it’s down. We therefore currently have a big pile of books downstairs, where they’re returned, and no way of getting them upstairs to shelve. This makes enquiries a bit of a farce:

Hopeful student “I can’t find any copies of Sociolinguistics – the catalogue says there’s one in.”
Helpful staff member “Have you tried looking in the enormous pile of books?”

Stressed student “I definitely returned this item, but it’s not been cleared off my record!”
Stressed staff member “Have you tried looking in the enormous pile of books?”


Today we heard that the lift may well be out of order for the rest of the week, but it transpires that Estates are coming to our rescue. They are going to stop the paternoster to get trolleys on and off: I’m not sure exactly how it’ll work, but I’m sure it’ll be fun to watch.

In the meantime, this has really brought to home how important getting books back onto the shelves actually is in libraries. It’s something that’s pretty specific to this line of work – you don’t need to get books back onto shelves a book shop, they just have to worry about the new ones. The main desk downstairs is called the Circulation Desk, and circulation is the very stuff of the day to day running of the library. Even though most of the time circulation only feels like time filler in between ‘important’ tasks, it’s pretty stunning to see what happens when it breaks down.

You also really notice how many books there are when even a small proportion of them are sitting in a pile in one place!

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