One of the perks of UC Berkeley’s library system is the inter-library loan system. Students can access the holdings of UC’s regional library storage systems, as well as material from the entire University of California system. We also have access to Worldcat, which allows us to have books shipped to us from other libraries. Finally, Berkeley has an “exchange” with Stanford’s libraries. It is painful to go on bended knee to The Other Place, but if I need something quickly that is checked out here, or if they have something we don’t, it’s an invaluable service.
These are the kind of services that make a great university system. They enable researchers to go about their business in the same location where they teach and write. For those disciplines which continue to rely heavily on physical printed material—in spite of digitisation efforts, there are a lot of books out there that are only available in hard copies—this is particularly important. And as much as people complain about the anonymity of big public research universities, I love the atmosphere, and the size doesn’t stop the ILL librarians knowing my name and saying good morning when I pass them in town on the week-ends.
Last night I picked up two books that had been sent over from Stanford, but didn’t look at them until this morning. It turned out that while one of them was TANU Women: Gender and Culture in the Making of Tanganyikan Nationalism, the other was a romance novel and not, as I had been expecting, Nationalism and African Intellectuals. Perhaps the Stanford librarian who has been dealing with my requests for the last month decided that my life needed enlivening and was trying to send me a message, but whatever the reason, the wrong book had arrived.
Surprised at the mistake—in my experience the Interlibrary Loan Department is flawless in its execution of its duties—I went down to the Main Library to see whether the other book was languishing around on the stacks somewhere (I can just hear the books from Stanford whispering to each other when they get the call-up, “Hey man, I’m heading over to the East Bay for a few months. It’ll be awesome! Can’t wait to get away from these spoiled rich kids with their dorky mascot!”).
The librarian at the main circulation desk was far more horrified than I at the mistake, and actually accompanied me to the ILL office to sort things out. The staff there were solicitous about making inquiries, and I expect that the correct book will be arriving soon.
The care that the librarians took over this small hiccup made my day, not least because it gave the lie to those who complain about the apathy of public employees and the dysfunctional nature of public institutions. I’m always happy walking into the library, and I will enter these days with a renewed spring in my step knowing that it is a place of learning run by people who take their service to the University community seriously.