Chapter 391 Research at the “Media Commons”, Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this post here.

I arrived at Santa Clara University’s new “Media Commons” only to discover I had the exact name of what I used to call the library wrong. The new name is a mouthful, to say the least. Here it is:


At the threshold was a book sculpture. I found the sight of books, even if immobilized in stone (metal?), reassuring:

I entered the building and made my way past the cafe to the Circulation Desk. I gave the student working at the desk my name and she disappeared into a small room and came back out with . . .

exactly one volume of the two volume bibliography I had requested via the internet and then driven 30 miles to use.

“I think that’s supposed to be two volumes,” I said.

“Hmm. Let me check in the back room again.” A minute later she returned, empty handed. “There’s nothing else there with your name on it,” she said.

Together, we looked the book up in the library’s online catalogue. “You see that ‘v. 1 and v. 2’? That indicates that this title is two volumes,” I said, wanting to be helpful but probably sounding impatient.

“Well,” she replied after thinking about for a moment. “I think the problem is that the two volumes have the same call number. The Automatic Retrieval System saw one call number and grabbed one book.” I suggested we request the Automatic Retrieval System get the same call number again, but when we did that, the computer screen read, “Not available” with my name next to it.

“Can someone go into the stacks where the Automatic Retrieval System is and just grab the second volume off the shelf for me?” I asked, trying to be polite. I had now wasted about a half hour trying to locate the missing volume.

“I don’t know how to do that,” the student worker said. “Guess you’ll just have to use the one volume.”

Oh, [fill in the blank with whatever you deem appropriate here]!

Given that much of the stacks are now off limits to library patrons and accessible only to the Automatic Retrieval System, there wasn’t much else for me to do unless I felt like spending even more time tracking down an actual librarian. But my time was limited. I had to be back home in a few hours to pick up Tom and Huck from school. I took the one volume and started to work with that. It was very helpful and I did find that in my catalogue I had made one error with regard to the publication date of the first issue of a book. That discovery alone made my visit worthwhile. I also discovered two other helpful bibliographies mentioned in the volume I had requested. I requested the additional books from the ARS and, in 30 minutes time, I had those, too. Nevermind that with a card catalogue and stacks that could be searched by humans, I could have gotten them in 5 minutes myself.

All of the books I could locate during my visit to the Library were helpful. The new library is a beautiful building with comfortable workspaces and a surprisingly good cafe. And, though I may not always understand how it works, I like technology. Living in Silicon Valley affords me the chance to see and use amazing creations on a regular basis.

That said, I really think the old method of allowing the patron to look up a book’s location (whether in a card catalog or online cataglog) and then locate the book herself would have saved me about 90 minutes of time. I’m all for technology, when its use actually improves upon an existing function. But can someone please tell me how Automated Retrieval Systems make life easier for those of us who use the library?

And that’s my report from the brave new world of library research. I’m off to a second library next week to see if I can track down the second volume of that two-volume bibliography. Meanwhile, proofreading of the Dante catalogue continues.

I couldn’t find any photos of Santa Clara’s Automated Retrieval System, but Sonoma State University also uses the same system in their library. If you click here, you’ll find multiple images to help you understand how the system works. (And, if you’re like me, when you read the list of advantages of having such a system, improving the patron’s experience of the library is not listed.)

See you in the stacks, assuming there are any left!


Filed under Catalogues, Libraries

7 responses to “Chapter 391 Research at the “Media Commons”, Part 2

  1. I was an art history student at SJSU. When I needed a hard to find title I’d use the UC Santa Cruz library (plus it was a good excuse to go to the beach). They had a very good library. You are lucky to have so much at your disposal. The Bay Area is a wonderful place to live.

  2. Bill

    It seems that many university librarians want to turn their libraries into Starbucks: a few students sipping coffee while on their lap tops, without being bothered by, you know, books and stuff. I loved going into the stacks when I was in school looking for books and getting my eye caught by another book I didn’t know to ask to see. Can’t do that on the computer search and retrieval. Does make your sign off unintentionally ironic, doesn’t it. Good luck getting Vol. 2!

  3. I, too, liked the experience of going into the stacks to search for one book and finding a few other related books I hadn’t previously known about. That thrill of discovery is gone with an automated retrieval system. In all fairness, I don’t know that it’s the librarians wanting to turn their university libraries into Starbucks or the administrators and admissions directors who may not have had long-term thoughts about the relevance of books and accessible book storage. Thanks for your comment.

  4. “But can someone please tell me how Automated Retrieval Systems make life easier for those of us who use the library?”

    I think that’s just it. “They” aren’t thinking about the patrons. My guess is that someone with power thought it was cool. It reminds me of the line from Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

  5. Chris, I’m sorry you had a disappointing experience in our new library, and that the staff at our circulation desk weren’t able to clarify the issue for you. I think you were trying to get Cunningham’s The Divine comedy in English (at least, that’s the only multi-volume Dante bibliography that’s circulated recently). Although that’s a two volume bibliography, we only have volume 2, not volume 1. Here’s a link to the online catalog record for that item ( In contrast, here’s a link for a two-volume set where we have both volumes (, which shows buttons to request each of the volumes from the ARS individually.

    If you could let us know the next time you’ll be on campus the University Librarian and I would be delighted to take you to lunch at the Adobe and talk about the new library, the economic realities of providing collection growth space, and even why having a classic reading room in a new library might be considered “retro.”

  6. Readers,

    Just want to let you know I have responded to Mr. Danielson’s comment above, via email, and that I hope to visit and learn more about the new library soon.


  7. Pingback: Chapter 409 Libraries and Universities and Economic Realities « Book Hunter’s Holiday

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