On Poetry and Culture Shock

On librarians

The Cornell Library Website is an overprotective mother and codependent girlfriend all in one. “Call me! Email me! Ask me! I can help you! Do you need more? If I don’t have anything I can get it for you from some other library”. When Kroch closes for technical reasons I get an email way in advance. The staff at the library is helpful. When the first semester started, I had a choice of several orientation sessions about where to find and how to use library materials. When I send an email to a librarian, I get a reply in one day at the most.

I have asked very technical questions about searches in journals to staff that, of course, doesn’t have any training in my field of study. They don’t need to: they know where the information is or how to look for it, and they have guided me towards it as I groped in the dark. And something important: they are courteous and patient.

Now let’s take a look at the other side of the ocean. The job of Spanish librarians, or should I say Seville librarians to keep it to my own experience, consists on checking out books. Basically, they do the job of a receptionist or janitor. Conserjes, eso es lo que son, los bibliotecarios españoles. There is a Librarianship degree that people study at University, with the evocative name of “Biblioteconomy”, but I don’t have a clue of what those students are taught. They are certainly not told that they are supposed to be helpful. Leaving aside that they often have no idea about the content of the books they keep.

Example one:
Seville University Online Catalogue does not contain a clearly visible Help function. The Main page doesn't have the Main Library's phone number (you have to explore quite a bit to find it). A careful search leads you to a fill-in-the-blanks form for questions that, says the website, can take a couple of days to get answered, and a page with a list of phone numbers for some, but not all, the individual libraries. This is a disgrace.

Example Two: Librarians in Seville University don’t know the opening hours of any branch but their own. The only way of finding out is going there yourself, since there is no unified information leaflet or flyer or anything of the sort (Some of them keep weird hours with very long lunch breaks, so there is no definite time at which you’re sure they must be open).

Example Three: This doesn’t happen officially, but depending on the library branch, professors take out books without checking them out, which in practice means that the librarian does not remember where the book is when someone goes to get it.

Example four: In most libraries at Seville University, students are not allowed to look at the shelves. We have to give the librarian the reference numbers of the books we want. I find this particularly irritating because I like to look at volumes before I choose. Besides, sometimes you start a search not knowing exactly what you are looking for (leaving aside the fetishist pleasure of walking down aisles upon aisles of books).

Example five
: Spanish universities have “Facultades”, the fields of study, departments, or majors, and Departamentos, smaller study areas inside a Facultad: for example, Contemporary History would be a Departamento in the Facultad of History. All Facultades have a library and Many Departamentos have their own too. All students can check out books from any Facultad library but they can only borrow from Departamentos inside the Facultad they belong to. As if at Cornell, an English grad student doing research on 17th century descriptions of the City could not consult old maps of London because they belong to the Engineering department.

Example six:
Seville Public Library. I need to read one Borges short story. Everyone in the Spanish-speaking world should know that Borges wrote short stories, compiled under many different titles. I go to the information desk and I ask where would my story be. The woman at the desk types in the computer BORGES. STORIES, because she was too stupid to add two and two and remember that there is an aisle clearly marked “Fiction, alphabetical order by Author, Letter B”. But that was not all! When the computer gave zero results to the search, it meant that there was no book by Borges called just “Stories”, but this librarian told me that the library did not have any book of stories by Borges. It is as if an English library said it didn't have any books by Shakespeare at all, because a search said that no books by Shakespeare were called "A Play".

Imagine my culture shock when I came to Cornell and I saw that the library staff is supposed to help me do my job! *gasp

1 comentario

Rilke -

no podría estar más d acuerdo con lo q dices sobre la biblioteca pública de sevilla, me parece increíble q unas trabajadoras de una biblioteca no sepan de literatura(ni de lo q hay en la biblioteca,xq,e videntemente,como en toda buena biblioteca q se precie,SÍ HAY libros de borges, de hecho yo he sacado algunos de allí)y lo peor es cuando vas apreguntarles algo y t dan la sensación de q las molestas muchíiiisimo.Qué triste