Searching for misplaced books in a library can be a daunting task. A book is handled by many people including staff, children, patrons, and volunteers who shelve material. Searching for physical books is a human process prone to human error. This article is the joint work of an experienced librarian and a systems engineer. By taking a systems approach to the book search problem one can improve library service. In this article we will review some heuristics or rules of thumb that have been found to be effective in finding books a library might otherwise take a long time to find.
Traditional System of Book Search
Before jumping into the new approach or algorithm to speed up book discovery, it is useful to review the traditional model for book search that librarians use. The traditional system works for most situations. This system begins when a librarian looks up a book using the library catalog. If the material is listed as not checked out, the librarian goes to the shelf. If the book is found in the appropriate place, the search ends. If, however, the book is not where it should be, the librarian looks on the shelf surrounding the area where the book should be. The reasoning behind this is that if someone misshelves the book, usually a patron, the book is probably on a nearby shelf. Thus one scans the books on the shelf, performing an exhaustive search for the name, call number, author, through nearby shelves, usually above and below the shelf where the book should be. If this fails, the librarian may scan the entire column of shelves and the column to the right or left of the shelf. Then the librarian usually checks the area in the circulation department where there are recently-returned books and carts of books waiting to be shelved. If this does not work, a "trace" is placed on the book so that if it appears or is checked in, it will be flagged to be reserved for the patron.
Enhancements to Book Search Process
To improve the current system of search, we offer a few more places to search, which usually work when the traditional methods fail. These techniques are based on experience with impatient patrons as well as the fact that wandering in the library at leisure allows one to develop a detailed working knowledge of patron and library volunteer/staff behavior as one notes interesting anomalies or patterns.
Sometimes the book in question is dumped later in the same aisle or adjoining aisle to where the book should...