MITSFS Reorganization Touches 40K Books

5508 mitsfs 4
Photo by Omari Stephens
5509 mitsfs 5
Photo by Omari Stephens
5511 mitsfs 6
Photo by Omari Stephens
5513 mitsfs
Photo by Omari Stephens
5515 mitsfs 2
Photo by Omari Stephens
5517 mitsfs 3
Photo by Omari Stephens


This past weekend, the MIT Science Fiction Society (MITSFS) shut its doors for a massive reorganization that touched an estimated 95 percent of the ~40,000 books in its library in room 473 of the Stratton Student Center.

The purpose of the reorganization was two-fold. First, the group merged its reserve and circulating collections into a single, large, circulating collection.

They then changed how books were stored on the shelves in an attempt to pack more books on the shelves to make more use of the fixed amount of space in their library. Standard-height paperbacks and hardcovers will still remain in distinct areas in the library, however.

So on Saturday morning, Jan. 12, the first of hundreds of book-filled boxes marked “Mergatory” — purgatory for merging — were moved down the hall to W20-491, where the merging process began.


Here, (left to right) Cathleen E. Nalezyty ’16, Susan A. Shepherd ’14 (obscured), Karl C. Ramm, and Naomi A. Hinchen ’11 participate in the merge process.

In general, the participants proceeded through sections of authors in alphabetical order, beginning with one column of books from the reserved set and one from the circulating set, and “zippered” them together into one merged output column. Next, someone shifted the merged book set onto a mobile book cart, to be taken back to the library and reshelved.


Andrew M. Boardman thumbs through a set of paperbacks, looking for the proper spot for a book. At times, the similarities among last names of different authors made the merge process time-consuming and error-prone. For instance: Dick vs. Dicks vs. Dickson vs. Dickinson.

This image also illustrates a still-pending aspect of the reorganization. To save space on the shelves, the library plans to prune their in-library collection to at most two copies of any particular title. The prior limit was two circulating copies and one reserved, but with the merge, all copies will circulate. Once this next phase is complete, the redundant copies will join tens of thousands of other books that MITSFS already keeps in long-term storage.


During a pause in work, participants listen as Brian T. Sniffen ’00 (left) offers a solution to a problem that has been discovered.

After the merge phase, the books returned to the library for reshelving. Since most books moved from their original shelf locations, mistakes made during the reshelving process caused kinks that participants fixed as the process continued.


Alexandra M. Westbrook ’13 (right) passes a book to Cathleen E. Nalezyty ’16 as the two “bubble” the books toward the far end of the shelves, in essence propagating the free space toward the near end of the row of shelves. The bubbling process served both to compress books on the shelves — after bubbling, wide books would typically be oriented to face outward, leaving more space for other books behind them — and to coalesce open shelf spaces in order to avoid “gotos” — points where the logical continuation of a set of books was located in a disjoint location in the library.


At the end of the Saturday work period, Jesse M. Ashcraft-Johnson ’11 (left) and Kevin A. Riggle ’08 remove the line of tape which formerly delineated the demarcation between circulating and reserved books. As the reorganization process had done away with that distinction in the collection, the line on the floor had become simply a memory of the prior state of the library.

MITSFS remained closed on Sunday to finish the major aspects of the reorganization, and opened again on Monday, Jan. 14. Though significant aspects of the reorganization still remain to be completed, MITSFS Vice President D.W. Rowlands G noted that they had succeeded with their primary goals for the weekend.