Working to Code

My cataloging professor once quipped in class, “There are two kinds of people: the people who know where things are and the people who know where things should be.”

I used that line on my daughter this morning as she looked for her dress shoes because it was picture day at school. She loves her dress shoes and will wear them sometimes when she plays in her bedroom or in the living room or the TV room and so one can never quite be sure where her dress shoes are at a given time.

After I told her my professor’s passed down wisdom, I gave her my addendum: “Whenever you share a space with other people you need to have places where everyone knows where particular things belong because when there are other people involved you can never be sure there things are.” I then walked with her to the space under the stairs where I try to keep all our shoes and we indeed found her prized possession.

I have been thinking about the necessity of communicating ‘where things should be’ in shared space ever since I read Peter Rukavina’s post on the Sachs-Neistat approach to labeling and then watched the video that inspired his post, Ten Bullets by sculptor Tom Sachs. Ten Bullets is part of series of movies designed for mandatory viewing by members of the Tom Sachs studio team called “Working to Code.” Like Peter, this video has also inspired me.

I am on the Board of Directors of a small, community-focused hackerspace called Hackforge. We have occasional ‘organize the space’ days in which the people who know what things are and where they should be are present and able to guide the other members who don’t have this shared understanding.

It is difficult to clean up a work space if you don’t recognize what an object *is* especially as many vernacular organizational systems group things together by function when they don’t group things together by type (just like the grocery store where baking supplies are clustered together in one aisle whereas in another you can find a collection of dried beans).

This is why one of our members designed an inventory system for our space that associates a wiki entry with an ID which is in turn associated with a QR code on a sticker that can be applied to a tool or bag of parts. So, if you are unsure what an object is, you can scan the QR code to read its wiki entry which, ideally, would also tell you where it belongs in the space. Unfortunately the whole system is still in an ‘idealized’ state as we haven’t done the work to inventory and describe most of the objects in our space.

But now I know thanks to Tom’s video that if I don’t where an object should go, I should A. B. K. – always be knolling.

My own place of work is another shared space of sorts. But as I am no Tom Sachs I am unable to unilaterally decide how we should label our materials within the Leddy Library. So I’ve decided to make small changes under my liaison responsibilities to see if they can make any noticeable differences that I can then share with my peers.

I work in an academic library and in my place of work we do not have a practice of labeling our bookshelf collections beyond providing call number ranges.

sign of call number ranges

I think it’s safe to say that very few people beyond library staff know that call numbers encode the book’s subject and authorship.

The only indication that the Leddy Library is organized by subject are the Find it with LC posters that you can find throughout the library.

One thing I did some time ago was try to provide a better label to myself on my staff profile page to give some idea of how I might be of use.

profile page

I have library liaison responsibilities for Biology, Earth and Environmental Sciences, and Computer Science.  And on these subject pages I am now adding a small section that lets reader know where the books of interest are:

I’m still not sure whether this work provides more signal than noise at this point and only with user testing will I be sure.

But one thing I am sure of – we cannot expect others to know the code of a shared space if we never share the code with them.