I Know It Was Red

It was years ago but I still remember the desparation in his voice and my own sense of utter uselessness. A man had returned a book to our main stacks (about 4 million volumes at the time) that was about literature. He knew the general call number area (narrowing it down to about 5000-8000 items give or take) and the color of the book. A real information need but none of my super power skills could help – the reference interview could elicit no more because he could not remember anything else that would help with searching for the item. How nice it would have been to have this: http://www.daveyp.com/blog/index.php/archives/170/! I’d want a few more features but the proof-of-concept is wonderful. Keyword/subject filters, limit by location, and also color of binding/cloth vs. jacket. I suppose we’ll see this in Amazon or somewhere else first but having helped many people track down a book they remember by its color – it would be a great reference tool.

Lisa Hinchliffe

Author: Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa is Head, Undergraduate Library, Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction, Office of Services, and Associate Professor, Library Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

5 thoughts on “I Know It Was Red”

  1. How hilarious! Unfortunately many (most?) academic libraries remove the dust jackets so it would be hard to limit to “sort of, I don’t know, browny-beige?” but I can’t tell you how often color has remained one of the last traces of the memory of a book.

    More often, though, I think of where it was on the shelf – that great reference set that’s shelved about yea high, halfway down past the pillar … and then we shift the collection and it all goes to hell.

    Still … knowing the color is much more useful than knowing it’s 22 cm. tall. (What ever was the point of that?)

  2. But what percentage of books have been rebound or given a stronger binding, especially in an academic library?

    My guess is a fair amount. Thus, unless every library does it for themselves, how universal could such a database actually be?

    And, while Barbara Fister may not care about the size of a resource, there are several reasons why it might be important to various users. And it is far less changeable than the color of a binding.

    Not trying to defend (or undermine) either, but in this day of “we’re spending too much time on description” just who is to do this description? And maybe size is one of the things to do away with, at least for most records?

  3. Well, while we are planning this tool… for academic library re-binding, we’re probably recording the color in some backroom system — so maybe we could have the original color (common) plus a feed of the new color (from the binding management module)?

  4. Are you suggesting that currently someone is recording the color of a binding in some ‘binding management module’ in most libraries? I’m dubious.

    Maybe the _bindery_ is. Maybe. I doubt that any library staff are currently recording that in any backroom system.

  5. Not the color of things that come in from the publishing bound. The color of things sent out for binding (so that all volumes of a journal or series get bound in the same color each year for example – might seem trivial but for students who have enough trouble finding journals, being able to use the blocks of color on the shelf as indications of journal or series sets, it is a great benefit!). I can’t speak for every library but I have certainly been involved in such records in my career.

    Seriously though – even just the original color of whatever binding in a very general way (and computers can figure this stuff out now) it could help – especially if it can be automated. I’m going to watch Amazon and see if/when this feature shows up….

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