Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Library Shelving Entropy

If asked to give a layman's definition of the second law of thermodynamics I'd likely explain that in a closed system the level of disorder tends to increase over time. The common misuses of this theory asides, I offer libraries as a proof.

It starts innocuously enough. Two books are reversed on the shelf. Or one's lying down at the end of a row of books. A few days later six books have hopped to other bays of shelving and large gaps in the fiction collection have the whole thing looking dishevelled. When you go to put one of the bay-hoppers back where they belong you find two books that have made an epic journey from a collection on the other side of the building. Others have disappeared into the blackness behind other books and under furnishings where they can hide for weeks.

Before you know it: 

This, thankfully, is from Wikimedia Commons, not from my own camera.
The library I work in offers significantly lower levels of entropy (phew).

Any member of staff who has been handed the routine but sometimes mildly terrifying task of searching the notorious missing report or any of the other lists for materials that aren't where they were expected to be can confirm this to you.

Shelvers, shelf tidiers and shelf readers might fight the forces of entropy with great enthusiasm and persistence but the laws of physics can never be truly overcome.

Ebooks may offer a sort of salvation - but to look wider to the world of digital resources the work of entropy is plain to see.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a retired professional librarian with 35 years work experience including paraprofessional and professional.

    I'm just know beginning research on what I think of a library entropy-- a phenomena just as you have described.

    My beginning of research is on entropy itself. I've learned that an understanding of the laws of thermodynamics might be essential. I understand that thermodynamic interactions can be either reversible or irreversible. Since library staff can replace misshelved items it would seem library entropy is of the reversible class. I'm pursuing my research in that direction for now.