Pre-Holiday Library Lessons Learned

Outside the Southeast Anchor Branch of the Enoch Pratt Library, there is a statue of Frank Zappa with Santa hat on his head for the holidays

Image cc license from Flickr user tigerlillyshop:

‘Twas the last Friday before the holidays

and silence reigned in the stacks.

There were no patrons nor queries,

not a call, e-mail nor fax.

The books were all shelved

in their places with care

in hopes that, undisturbed,

they would stay there…

(with apologies to Clement C. Moore)


For some libraries, the holiday season means a massive rush to the finish, followed be peace and calm and an opportunity for inventory, staff training, and wearing jeans to work.  In the last week before the holiday break, there were some important lessons learned which I thought might bear sharing as they apply for librarians and library patrons, beyond this stressful period and into the rest of the year.

Be Prepared, Be Flexible

Two weeks before the office closed for period between Christmas and New Years, the one colleague in IT who knew the infrastructure supporting the Library database left for five weeks of vacation. The rest of the IT staff were looking more gaunt, frustrated and frazzled as the days passed, trying to get as much accomplished as possible, frequently on short notice from staff suddenly and urgently requiring laptops, software, and assistance as soon as possible before the year ran out.  So it was in accordance with Murphy’s Law that the library database picked this moment to malfunction and my new laptop refused to permit cataloguing of publications.  Thankfully, experience has taught me to pursue and document my own troubleshooting efforts, enabling me to present my IT colleagues with as much information as possible (replicate the problem, detail what happened at each stage).  After insisting that we could not wait for a resolution in January and then working together as patiently as possible, we cobbled together a temporary solution by setting up an older but functional work station in the IT office from which I could work.  While not ideal, this solution ensures that the library catalogue is operational and good relations are maintained with IT, perhaps the most important service unit in any organization.

The Last Day Before the Holidays is the Best Time to Process Loose Leaf

Find 947:23/001-003 and replace with 947:23/001-003

Find 947:23/011-024 and replace with 947:23/011-024

Find 958:11 and remove

Updating binders of loose leaf pages is something I usually postpone because, working the reference desk in the reading room, a disruption is too likely.  While the work itself is not difficult or demanding, it requires a certain amount of focus or one can make mistakes which result in incomplete resources.  For those unfamiliar with loose leaf binders in library reference collections, it is common for national constitutions and multilateral treaties to be printed in unbound volumes, as this permits easy replacement or addition of pages when amendments are passed or instruments invalidated. However, the instructions received with the new pages are in a language and logic unto themselves and it is easy to lose your way. As I discovered, the ideal time for processing loose leaf is the end of the afternoon on the last day of work before the holidays, when nearly everyone has already left the office and it’s only you, your Christmas music, and an empty reading room.

Wearing a Santa Hat Brings in Users

To help keep myself in the holiday spirit, I had already decorated the doors of the library with a few plastic window decals;  the scatterings of copper and gold stars earned a few comments, all positive, and cheered me whenever I saw them. For the last day of work before the holiday break,  I brought out my Santa hat and wore it around the office all day long.  A bright red hat is hard to miss in a grey cement building, especially when more than half of the office is empty, so I had expected the looks and comments received. What I had not anticipated was the volume of impromptu visits from colleagues, many of whom were not normally library patrons.  The Santa hat seemed to bring people by and start a conversation easily and comfortably. Even if the colleagues weren’t borrowing materials or asking for help in finding resources, they came in and hopefully had a positive encounter that will bring them back some other time.


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