Archives For collection maintenance

img_0366When it comes to book displays at the library, I find there to be two different philosophies or approaches. Most people lean towards one or the other, but not both. First, we have the “Save-a-Book” displays, where we highlight older, less popular books, usually from the regular stacks, usually based on a subject (Puppies, True Crime), a season (Beach Reads), or a heritage month (Black History). I would say the most extreme (and irrational) examples of these”Save-a-Book” displays are books that are about to get weeded (“Last Chance!”), or books that have blue or pink covers (please don’t do that…it really makes no sense).

Second, and less prevalent in libraries, are what I call popular displays (for lack of a better term). These are displays that highlight what people already want or probably want. I’m not talking about bestsellers or books that you automatically get 50 copies of, but popular midlist titles nonetheless. From a process standpoint, popular displays have a completely different workflow. Rather than gathered up after the fact on the back end, these are new books that get ordered to go on the display. They get selected, processed, and cataloged as display items. They can last for a few months to several years, and they require weekly upkeep to weed and keep tidy. They are like a fire, constantly being stocked and fed. They are new, clean, popular, and waiting for the patron when they walk in. And they do incredibly well.

You can probably already tell which one I prefer. I find that subject based displays are hit
or miss at best. They tend to be a lot of work for a little payoff in circulation. While I think most displays should be popular, I also think some displays have an important place in libraries. For example, we do displays for all the heritage months – Black History Month, American Indian Month. That’s important. Or displays that support social justice initiatives (e.g., “Libraries Stand Tall,” a display supporting immigrants). Whether popular or not, those have social value and should be highlighted. Although, as a side note, we should make an effort to represent all people in our popular dimg_0367isplays as well, not just relegated to special months. Let’s integrate displays the best we can. For example, I’m considering a popular “Heard on NPR” book display. Not only will it be popular, it will be relatively diverse as well.

Last thought: in my experience, Staff Picks displays are a slam dunk. Not only are they the best form of readers’ advisory, not only are they fun for staff, not only do patrons appreciate our selections, but they circulate well.

book and skull with title The Almost Dead Experiment

What’s a rational weeding philosophy? When is a book really dead? 6 months? 2 years? 4 years? More importantly: how do we know? Progressive, cool libraries stick to a 180 day weeding target, while old, stodgy libraries pile books to the rafters (’cause hey . . . we got the space). And some libraries (ahem, East Lake County) hate weeding so much and so blindly that they create a fake patron account to “save” books. All of these beg the same question: what data are these decisions based on?

In my new position managing the adult collection at KPL, I’m in a complex situation. While we tend to have a more conservative weeding target (4 years at main downtown library), I personally found myself leaning towards the more aggressive end of the spectrum – I just assumed that if a book sits on the shelf for 2 or 3 years, it’s probably not getting checked out.

Until now.

CollectionHQ, an evidence-based collection management tool designed for libraries (recently acquired by Baker and Taylor), is normally used for weeding and selecting. But my favorite tool, called “experimental placement,” allows you to track particular books or collections and see how they perform over time. I ran an experiment 7 months ago, the results of which completely blow my mind. It turns out that, at my library, books that haven’t been checked out in three years – three years! – are still not dead yet.

Looking at the Dewey ranges 000-550, I was able to find 907 books that hadn’t checked out in three years (our weeding target is currently set at four years). I put those 907 Almost Dead Books into a CollectionHQ experiment, and I waited.

Out of 907 books in the experiment, a whopping 232 (25%) were subsequently checked out by patrons. That is to say, 1 in every 4 Almost Dead Books were checked out. And of those 232 that were checked out, many were renewed multiple times and/or checked out again by someone else – making a net total of 469 circulations from Almost Dead Books.

Before the experiment, my prediction was that 1-5% of the Almost Dead Books would circulate again. I had to double check the numbers. I even checked the ILS at most of these titles, just to be sure actual real physical people were checking them out. Indeed.

I predict the second half of the Dewey ranges would do markedly better (550-999: diet, workout, cooking, business, crafts, travel).

This data sort of justifies our “conservative” target – clearly people still want some of these books. You could argue that weeding Almost Dead Books would actually lead to more total circulation by freeing up space for newer books.

I don’t want to oversimplify things. Weeding isn’t a simple 6 months vs. 4 years decision. Every Dewey range and every genre of fiction should  be treated differently, and there are myriad other considerations. I just wanted to repeat the buzzword because it matters so much in our profession: data-driven decision making. Whatever you do at your library, try to get data to inform the decision. You might be surprised.

Questions about how to do these experiments in CollectionHQ?

medium_3365835339The WryLibrarian (aka Megan McGlynn) posted this story about the Urbana Free Library’s weeding problem.  As a weeding and collection quality fanatic, I have been so distressed to read about the problems in Urbana.  Over at Awful Library Books, Holly and I have been talking and watching this debacle unfold. I am not sure how this will finally end, but I know it will be discussed in library schools as an object lesson for a long time. Already many have started speculating on the problems of Urbana, and like Megan, I am of the mind that this is not a weeding problem.

Most libraries have a detailed policy and procedure when examining books for de-selection.In my experience, librarians are cautious about weeding, almost to a fault. Holly and I founded Awful Library Books to actually spur librarians toward more aggressive weeding.  We both love weeding as a great way to spruce up a collection so it is more responsive to public need. As much as we love to weed, it is never done without thought and context, and by examining many factors, including publication date.  In my opinion, if there were trained, degreed librarians at the library, there had to be a discussion of Urbana’s policy and good library practice. There is no way that trained professional librarians would go willingly along with such a ridiculous directive, unless it was implied that jobs were at stake.

A Director/manager needs to listen and trust staff. If you don’t, as a manager, you should be asking why.  This doesn’t mean you need total agreement on an issue. It does mean that as a manager you want to lead effectively and make good decisions based on relevant information. I remember a time when I was shifting and moving a collection and a Page mentioned something I hadn’t considered. She was the expert in shelving and saw a weakness in my plan before I did. Every staff member is an expert in their particular part of library land, and you would be wise to listen to their advice. A leader thinks about the overall goal and the big picture, assembles input from the experts, and makes the call.

The impact on the public should be considered in any change. No matter what kind of change, the public will notice and someone will have an issue. I have seen many a patron get absolutely upset and ready to charge into the Director’s office over things like moving a collection, using receipt printers rather than stamps, furniture, and a million other little details. Having an official response and training everyone to give that response is crucial. The larger the project, the more training is needed for dealing with public response.

When I was in library school, professors pointed to the San Francisco Public Library’s public relations disaster on weeding. I know San Francisco’s story probably scared a lot of directors/staff.  One of my first jobs in libraries had a director that was absolutely terrified of discarding anything after she had heard about San Francisco’s issue.  She was sure that even a moldy book in the dumpster would cause a public relations nightmare.

The Urbana Free Library situation smacks of leadership failure on so many fronts, least of all weeding. All of us in libraries would do well to watch Urbana’s handling of this situation and note what happens going forward.

More about Urbana Free Library’s Weeding Problem:

Bookgate: When Urbana Free Library Purged Thousands of Books

WILL Radio (Illinois Public Media)

News Gazette

Controversial Weeding

Megan Hartline —  June 19, 2013 — 5 Comments
Gloved hand spraying a dandelion weed

Gentle Weeding

What would you do if you came back from vacation and found your library shelves half empty?

Tracy Nectoux wrote a thoughtful report on drastic weeding at the Urbana Free Library. The weeding, which affected about half the collection and used publication date as the only criterion, was initiated by the library director while the librarian responsible for the collection was out of town.

Noted curmudgeon-at-large and academic library blogger Barbara Fister has another take on this at Inside Higher Ed.

Nectoux reports that the good folks at Better World Books, who received the weeded books, are working with the Urbana Free Library to resolve the situation.

We could talk about weeding criteria all day, but I’d rather discuss the obligation we have as library leaders to consult with colleagues and staff when making decisions. What circumstances affect that obligation?