July 21st, 2007


Tales from the front lines of the Potterdämmerung

When the sixth Harry Potter book came out, my library almost didn't get them in time to get them ready for everyone coming in Saturday morning looking for a copy, as they came late Friday. We got shafted on the audiobook versions, which didn't arrive until almost a week later.

Back in March, my library ordered 30 copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. All through this past week, we were hearing from other libraries in the consortium who had received their copies, but we were still Potter-less. One library ordered directly from Scholastic and got their boxes the end of last week. Those that placed orders in February through the normal book vendors (the same vendors who supply Amazon, Borders, and B&N) apparently got theirs Monday or Tuesday. When we finally got a shipment confirmation and the invoice on Tuesday, it looked like we should finally get our copies on Thursday.

Thursday came. The UPS van came and went, and still no boxes of Harry Potter books. The audiobooks showed up, but not the books. Checking the tracking number turned up a status of "Being rerouted." I've never seen that one before--perhaps our shipment had been touched by the baggage handlers at O'Hare and magically ended up in Niles, Michigan instead?

Friday everyone was on tenterhooks. The temp UPS driver we've for most of the week had been showing up around 9:30 A.M., but the regular driver normally shows up around 1:30 P.M. Of our two processors (who put the barcodes, spine labels, and library stamps on the books), one had the day off and the other was leaving at 12:30. If the books weren't here by then, she wouldn't be able to process them.

Checking the tracking numbers, the status of our shipment was "Out for delivery", so we knew the boxes had finally been scanned as actually on the truck.

Then someone heard from a friend at the post office that UPS was only shipping the ones in plain brown boxes on Friday and was routing all boxes that said "Harry Potter" to the USPS for mail delivery on Saturday. Mild worry ensued.

10 A.M. came and went.

11 A.M. came and went.

Noon came and went. The processing clerk went home.

1 P.M. came and went.

At 1:45, I got tired of waiting and went to lunch, figuring that a watched point never boils.

2 P.M. came and went. At that point, the head of our children's department blogged how disappointed she was with our book vendor that something we'd pre-ordered back in March--and which plenty of other libraries in the library had already received--hadn't arrived yet.

When I got back from lunch at 2:15, as I approached the department's door, I saw a brown van parked outside our deliveries entrance, and our receiving clerk standing in the doorway talking with someone. UPS had finally arrived, but had the books?

And then there they were, three big boxes, sitting on the receiver's desk, the one containing the packing list already open. I quickly called the head of children's, and she came by with a camera:

(Before anyone harps on the apparent violation of the street date, the contract libraries had to sign in order to place an order for this book stipulated that the boxes could be opened early in order to get the books processed and shelf-ready, but no one was allowed to read them and they had to be kept in a locked room away from the public and any staff whose jobs didn't require them to handle the books until Saturday. The Book 6 contract even stipulated that if a library violated that clause, Scholastic would not sell that library any copies of Book 7. Other than a breach of contract lawsuit, I don't know what stick the Book 7 contract threatened.)

The entire department sprang into action. The acquisitions clerks sped through the receiving and invoicing. I filled out a call number slip for the processing & data entry steps, and handed that to the data entry clerk while we organized an assembly line of everyone in the department who was around, willing, and able to help, as 30 books, while not a huge number, is nothing to sneeze at, especially for people who don't normally do the physical processing. Especially since some of the books were slated for our "Hot picks" collection, which instead of going to fill the holds queue, are available on a "first come, first served" basis, and therefore are not processed in exactly the same way as regular shelf copies. Given the demand for these books and the importance of meeting the street date, those of us in the assembly line simply dropped everything else we might have been doing to jump on this and get it out as fast as possible. (And do it well, since we do have standards to keep up.)

Thankfully, we pay an extra bit per book to have the vendor put mylar covers on the dust jackets, so we didn't have to do that; that's one of the harder and more time-consuming steps of book processing.

As it ended up, I put on the barcodes, a second person handled the spine labels, date-processed stamp, and "new book" sticker, a third put clear plastic overlays over the barcode & spine label (which helps keep them on and keeps the barcodes from wearing off as books are taken on and off shelves) and took them over to the data entry clerk, who entered the barcodes into the system and put "Reserve" stickers on the regular copies.

It took three of us about 25 minutes to process all 30 copies. Our regular children's processor is a miracle-worker and could probably have done them all in 10 minutes--and the barcodes and spine labels would have been put on much straighter, too.

By 3 P.M., the books were ready to go. The office of the manager in charge of day-to-day library operations was to be our "locked room", and once she got them, she would personally trap the first 25 holds in the queue, so that any of those 25 patrons who have given us an e-mail address could be notified overnight that there would be a book waiting for them on Saturday, and a mailer to the rest will go out with Saturday's mail. (Holds are normally trapped by the Circulation department, but lately, someone in that department has been putting aside a copy of certain popular books and taking it home themselves. Since the library services manager doesn't know whom to trust, she was just going to do it herself and guarantee that it was all done properly and above-board.) The library closes at 5 on Fridays, so the sooner we could get the books into her office, the more time she'd have to be able to get through all of the copies, print the "On hold for:" pages that we wrap around books on the pick-up shelves, and so forth.

Unfortunately, to get from our department to that office requires going through the busiest public area of the library--the AV department. Not only that, it requires going past part of the busiest section of that department--the DVDs. Not wanting the person pushing the cart to get mobbed and have books get into people's hands on Friday, we tossed a blanket (which someone in our department had brought in because the AC in our room is often set to "stun") over the cart. Then, as a diversion, I took one of the empty book boxes, held it as if it were still sealed and full and went to the right, through the busiest part of the DVD section and from there over to the children's department and into their office, while the person with the cart went to the left and made a beeline for the elevator up to the floor where the library services manager's office is. (It wasn't solely a diversion; I figured they might want one of the boxes for use in any Harry Potter programs they were planning--storing giveaways, just to look official, whatever. So my taking it over there killed two birds with one stone.)

I just checked the shelf status of our 30 copies, and as of this writing, 6 of the 25 regular copies have been picked up, and all five of the "first come first served" copies have been checked out.

For both those of us who have read and enjoyed the books and those who haven't, there's a good feeling in being able to come together as a department and get this sort of "emergency-speed rush" through everything that has to be done before a book is shelf-ready and get it out not just same-day, but same-hour.

Now I just have to patiently wait for the USPS to deliver the two copies kateshort and I ordered from Amazon...

ETA: We must have a ninja for a postal delivery person, because the box arrived while I was typing this, and I didn't hear the mailbox at all.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
computers, guru

Questions for the Potternauts...

Overall, I liked the book and generally laughed and cheered and felt sad when I was supposed to, but some parts didn't strike me right, some parts felt like an author alternating between pandering to the fans and intentionally smashing the loopholes clung to by fanfic writers, some parts dragged on far too long, and some descriptions felt altered for the sake of consistency with the way things look movies rather than the way they were described in the earlier books.

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Given the hoopla and buildup, you'd think that when you open a the cover of Deathly Hallows, the light of Marcellus' soul bursts forth and an angelic choir bursts out, singing the book's praises. It's about as good as the previous books in the series, but it's not that good. (If you mostly enjoyed books 1-6, you're likely going to mostly enjoy this one, too; if you haven't really enjoyed books 1-6, this one's not going to suddenly make a true believer out of you.)

Feudalism: Serf & Turf