Book Shifting and Hauling off Shelves at the Library

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I have spent a lot of time moving books in my part-time job at the Margaret Estes Library on the LeTourneau University campus. The library is about to undergo a facelift this summer, getting new paint and carpet. That means shifting a bunch of books around to create sections of shelves that can be moved by a machine able to pick up nine sections at a time — but that’s the most. In a few places we had a dozen sections fastened together and three had to be disassembled and hauled off. The evening I took apart and hauled off dozens of metal shelves almost certainly will be my personal record for most physical activity exerted inside a library.

“Book Shifting in Progress,” the signs read on the empty shelving so that students and other patron understand what is occurring. Book shifting can be a tricky process in keeping the books in Library of Congress Classification order — LCC for short. This is not to be confused with the Dewey Decimal Classification. In general, academic and research libraries, like Estes library, use the LC with public libraries use Dewey. Both are relatively simple to understand once one understands the systems.

The LCC system was first created in the late 19th and early 20th century to catalog the collection of the Library of Congress, in Washington, D.C. The ornate reading room of this library is breathtaking, one of my favorite places to visit in our nation’s capital. The LCC is widely used worldwide. According to the Library of Congress’ website, the LCC “divides all knowledge into twenty-one basic classes, each identified by a single letter of the alphabet.” These are further divided into subclasses, represented by combinations of numbers and letters. So every time a library receives a new book, such as the one I recently published, unless another library has already classified it, the librarian must assign it an LCC designation.

A librarian at LeTourneau kindly explained how she came up with the designation for “Yours Faithfully, J.A.:” The Life and Writings of H.B. Fox.” She has about three dozen volumes on a bookshelf that look like encyclopedias (remember those?) but are actually reference books containing the hundreds of thousands of topics and subtopics in the LCC system. The explanation of how she came up with the call number for my book went over my head, for the most part. Anyway “Yours Faithfully, J.A” can be found at F391.4 F69 B67 2018 at the Estes library. Or you can buy it from me.

I learned how to navigate libraries in the prehistoric era of card catalogs. Usually, one set was cataloged by author, another by title, and sometimes a third by subject. I leaned heavily on reference librarians back then to find what I was searching for. I still lean on them, but more to wade my way through the myriad electronic databases that have made conducting research so much quicker and less expensive. I have no nostalgic feelings for card catalogs, except the actual wooden cabinet was usually handsomely crafted.


So, what’s the difference between the Dewey Decimal Classification and the Library of Congress Classification? Dewey, established in 1876, uses numbers only. One website called it the “Google of the 19th century,” a factoid I found, of course, on Google. Dewey starts with ten subject classes, such as religion or history, then breaks down each of those classes into 10 subdivisions. Every book, DVD, etc., is then assigned a numeric call number depending on where it falls in what is called a “taxonomy of knowledge.”

I like that phrase.


I take pleasure in reshelving books that have been returned, and three months of doing so has made me fairly fast at finding the proper place for the volume. But I take more pleasure in helping students, such as the other day when I taught a young woman how to find journal articles for a class project. She was surprised at how easy it is to search online and download the full text of many articles. I think she has become a fan of the library.

That’s a lot more fun than hauling off shelving into a flatbed trailer. But it’s all part of the job.

Come see me from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, April 14 at the Longview Library’s Chatauqua Festival. I’ll be selling and signing books, of course.

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