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Taking Inventory

With a non-circulating collection, one might think that the Ryerson and Burnham Library’s annual inventory is a very quick job, but it’s actually one of our biggest projects. And that’s because we do allow curators, their research assistants, some professors at the School of the Art Institute, and some professional museum staff to check books out, as long as they keep the books in their locked Art Institute offices. No taking anything home!

Every July, we go to these offices and double-check to make sure the books are there. This is basically the equivalent of having the public library go to every patron’s house and ensure that they have the books they’re supposed to. How invasive! But the process serves a higher cause and is actually appreciated by the staff.

First, we renew all the books for a whole year (or, until next inventory), so no one has to deal with overdue notices. Second, we ensure that our researchers have their (basically) private libraries intact, with nothing missing. And third, and most importantly, we keep track of where everything is. With a non-circulating collection, it’s very important that we can offer all of our patrons every book we own—whether the book is back in the stacks or in a curator’s office across the museum. That said, every day we have the ability to “recall” books from those “private libraries” so that some other interested reader can see them. It’s all about sharing. If we don’t know where the books are, we can’t pass them around.

It’s a pretty tight ship, but the upsides include few lost books, accessibility to everything, and tidy curatorial offices by the time we’re finished.

But even if you’re not among the few who are able to check out books, we welcome you to spend time in our reading room, where you can access all the library has to offer. Click here for library hours and more information.

—Susan A., Head of Reader Services, Ryerson & Burnham Libraries