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The spring 2014 semester has been the semester of the recalled library book for me. I have had no fewer than seven recalls, the latest one being merely five days ago. I can’t help but feel these are somehow personal attacks on my research by malicious hordes who fear my exposing the truth about Victorian pornography. I’m pretty sure big pharma/data/oil are all in on it.

If I can be serious for a moment, though, I need to flesh out this whole culture of librarying. Now, the reason I think I am taking these recalls somewhat personally is that I don’t live within a reasonable distance of my institution and so I’m having to return the recalled books via post (you know, that thing that costs money). I don’t expect that there is any way those recalling the books can know this, nor would I expect them to care if they did…so long as they really needed the book they’re recalling. It’s every borrower’s right to have access to a given library’s materials. I get that. I do. My fear, however, is that some recalls may be haphazard. It takes more than simply spec for me to recall a book. I have to make sure that it is something I really need. Some of the books that I’ve had recalled this semester were available online — which helps me out because I still have access — had multiple copies available, or were borrowed and returned almost immediately by the recaller. Imagine my surprise when I planned on waging a fully spiteful recall war in an effort to give the inconsiderate recaller(s) a taste of their own medicine only to find that the items were listed as available in the library stacks. Zut alors!

As such, I’ve got a couple of tips for those who may recall first and ask questions later.

  1. Ask yourself if you really need this book.

Maybe you feel like you do because it lists a keyword for the thing you’re researching? That’s not really a good reason. When I don’t have immediate access to a particular item but I found it during a keyword search or some other ephemeral thing I’ll try and find someone else who’s read it. Chances are, if the book is at least a few years old, there’s a review or two floating around out there that will help you decide whether the book is really what you need. Or, alternatively, ask someone else who knows shit about the topic if the book is worth getting and will add anything to your work/research. Who? You’re at a university, use your imagination (hint: not the swimming coach).

2. See if it’s available electronically.

I have colleagues who manage to never step foot in a library. I envy their electronic research kung fu. I myself have only the most tenuous grasp of finding things online, but even one as incompetent as I can usually find at least a snippet of things online, if not a full text. Newer texts will usually have some sort of online presence as publishers try and make their wares available on every platform and, more often than not, university libraries will have electronic copies of new and/or key texts. It seems like a contradiction for me to be telling folks to find a text electronically before recalling the physical copy, and that’s a fair point. Please note, however, that these are simply steps to take while deciding whether recalling the work is the necessary thing. I do this myself. I have to convince myself that it is absolutely necessary for me to obtain a physical copy of a text, which most likely means that someone will have to make a special trip to the library. A minor inconvenience, to be sure, but it’s only polite to consider others when making requests. This is not to mention also that I find most electronic versions of texts cumbersome, especially if I can’t download a pdf version that I will print out as a last resort.

3. Recall the book, but don’t abuse the privilege.

As I mentioned above, nothing is more disheartening than thinking items you’ve gone out of your way to return have not been used thoroughly. But, hey, maybe you really only needed half a chapter of a specific book. Who the hell am I to judge your work? I’m nobody. Could you do me a favour, though? Make a show of it. Keep the book for longer than a couple of days. It’s cool. Most libraries send you courtesy emails telling you that your book is coming due soon so you don’t even have to rely on your memory to know when to return the thing. Can’t return it when the library reminds you nicely? No problem, it’s 2014 now and you can renew that shit online. No human interaction required. If nothing else, please make the recallee feel that their efforts to get an item you have recalled have not been in vain. If there were an academic library episode of Seinfeld I feel it would have covered the social conventions of this interaction succinctly. Since there wasn’t an episode like that, all you got is me. Sorry about that. I feel I could use a guy like Mr. Bookman sometimes, though.