Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The - national - library - is - driving - me - nuts!

For a long time I wondered why books would be listed in the NLB (Singapore) library catalogue as "not yet available". That in itself wasn't so bad...after all they could be waiting for them to be delivered, or catalogued, or whatever. But then when I found that books from *1984* were listed as "not yet available", I began to wonder. That's kind of long to wait for a delivery, isn't it? And then books that I searched for three months ago were still listed as "not yet available"...hmmm.

Today the mystery was solved by a kindly librarian - apparently these books have *never been ordered*!!! Why, then, were they in the system? Because any book that is "acquire-able" is listed in the system. I was so shellshocked I just stood there staring at the librarian. I couldn't really think of anything to say, the illogic was just so dumbfounding.

So (1) why is it that there are books that aren't even listed in the library catalogue? Are they not even order-able? (My, what a lot of productive morphology I'm using today.) And (2) does it make any sense to list these books in the library catalogue? Surely the catalogue should include just books you can actually get your hands on. It's really, really annoying to think "aha! They have the book!" and then have your hopes dashed. And what's with the "not yet available" thing, anyway? I'm sure that's violating some implicature somewhere...doesn't *yet* indicate that it's almost certainly going to happen? But it's not if you haven't ordered the book!!!

In other rantings regarding the library, I was tinkering around with the library's Carlweb OPAC the other day and to my delight I found an alternative URL syntax (using +'s) that seemed like it might be more flexible than the current one I know of (using underscores) since the former might be able to handle other Boolean operators. But alas, after spending a week away that alternative syntax no longer worked. No clue what happened. Maybe some administrator got spooked by me trying to find all the ways of searching the catalogue without actually going through the catalogue's search page.


Blogger Ivan Chew said...

I suspect (but can't confirm) there are 2 main reasons why there's a record of the item but there's no "holdings information", i.e. it shows "item not available" and does not list any branch.

(1) The item record was created when the purchase order was placed in 1984. But for some reason, the item was not supplied. Unfortunately, the record is still there and since there is no "holdings" (i.e. not held in any library), the message just says "not available". (2) The item may have been discarded so no holdings, but the item record is still there.

Probably a lot of these records are from pre-computerisation days (1984!)and where there was a conversion, some items fall through the gaps. But that being said, the same thing might happen for relatively recent titles. Depends on the programme logic. Considering the volume of books the public libraries acquire, and the fact that no computerised system is 100% bug-free, there will be such cases.

Anyway, this is NOT a defence of NLB. Personally, I share your frustrations. Cases like this doesn't make it easy for the library staff to help readers like you too. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the backend systems to give you a very clear answer.

What's important -- from my point of view -- is to see how to get you, the reader, the item (or its equivalent). For that, you might want to email the respective branch (email address is usually the branch initials followed by ""). Or submit your enquiry via NLB website feedback form.

Hope this helps.

8:56 AM  

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