I had a hankering to read Michael Pollan's Cooked, his 2013 natural history of the transformation of food in the kitchen, but at my local public library, all sixteen copies are currently checked
out. Thirty-seven people are on the wait list ahead of me.
Of course, the local top-ranked public research university has ten million volumes in its library collection, and Pollan is a faculty member. I know they will have his book. And I've got borrowing privileges.
The University's catalog showed that the system has four copies of Cooked. Three were checked out.
The remaining available copy resided in the Biosciences and Natural
But when I arrived on the mezzanine level where the book was supposed to be shelved, it was not there.
I grew up in libraries. My father worked in the main branch of a large city's public library, and I spent much of my summer vacations as a child happily ensconced in the stacks of books. My first job as a teenager had been in that same library, checking books in and out, sorting them and returning them to shelves. In my experience there are three main reasons why a book is not where the catalog says it should be: one, it's been mis-shelved; two, it's currently being used by another patron within the library; and three, the book is en route from the return desk.
I took a look around the floor of the Biosciences library. Mis-shelving was not likely: careless placement by distracted patrons or
harried staff is common in high-traffic sections of a
library, like new fiction and children's books, but it was clear that the cookbook and chef memoir section of
the University's library was not a popular area. In use? There was no one else on this floor, even in a study carrel. En route seemed most likely. Depending on the size and staffing of the library, it might be a
matter of hours or a matter of days for the book to journey from the return slot to
the shelf. It would likely currently be either in a holding
room, or on a mobile cart.
It only took a moment to discover that the area adjacent to the elevator is lined
with shelves: a temporary holding room.
There aren't many books, but those that are there have already been pre-sorted numerically and alphabetically, for easy return to the stacks. No sign of Pollan's latest.
But then, above eye level, in what to me (as a former library employee) is an unusually out-of-the-way location, is an unlabelled shelf. The books here, while belonging on this floor, have not yet been sorted for each aisle.
There it is, the book I want.
I am inordinately happy for the rest of the day.