Archives For weeding

pile-of-booksLibraries have different ways of dealing with extra copies. After these books are 6-8 months old, they’re ready to retire to the regular stacks. But how many copies should we hold on to? And for how long? At our library, we keep two copies and hold onto them until they get weeded (which means no checkouts in 4 years). So, browsing through our regular stacks, it’s hard not to notice the many copies of older Patterson’s, and Baldacci’s, and [any popular author we get more than two copies of]. Many are newer, but many are old – really old. Like over 10 years old. Do we really need two copies of a Patterson novel from 2002? That’s a lot of real estate, after all.

Turns out, yes.

Focusing on our Central (downtown) Branch, I recently ran an experiment in CollectionHQ tracking the performance of (a) books we had two copies of and (b) that were at least 10 years old. I scanned a large sample of these books into one experiment, a total of 281 books – from Child to Connelly, Cussler, Evononvich, Kingsbury, Koontz, Macomber, Patterson…you get the idea.

And then I waited.

In four months, 102 of those books had circulated (35%). Not bad. In six months, 129 had circulated (46%). That’s a lot, and doesn’t count renewals, which accounted for 291 circulations. And in many cases, both older copies were checked out (not just one of them).

Don’t sleep on your older but popular authors.

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?

photo of Heather LoweHeather Lowe manages the Fine Arts Division at the Dallas Public Library, where she’s creating community around art.

Can you talk about your career path?

I had an art degree and was thinking I wanted to be studio art professor. So I went to grad school and got my MFA at Cranbook Academy of Arts. In the process of being in grad school I realized didn’t really want to take professor route for a lot of reasons. There’s not a ton of security, art professor jobs are really hard to come by – but also I just happened to have a job in the library there.

Cranbrook is the kind of place where you rely on other students. The things my fellow students were coming to me for were book suggestions, artist suggestions, help with research. I began to think about libraries as a potential career path.

After I graduated there I got a library assistant job at the University of Michigan, where I worked in access services and their visual resource collection. I really enjoyed that environment and particularly enjoyed the visual resources cataloging and thinking about digital resources. I decided I did want to pursue librarianship and went to UCLA for my MLIS.

There I worked as a graduate assistant in the archives and special collections at UCLA. The Center for Primary Research and Training matches grad students with particular expertise to process other scholars’ work but to do so in a way that’s subject area informed. It’s kind of a skills trade – they teach you how to do archiving and you use your knowledge. I found I really enjoyed that.

After I graduated from UCLA I had the opportunity to work at Cal State San Bernadino as the director of their Visual Resources Center. That position was really about teaching students information literacy, visual literacy skills, basic software skills, as much as it was about building digital collections. I really took on a teaching / tutoring role there.

I was there for a few years and then was ready to expand my skills and try something new. I saw a position at the Dallas Public Library for a subject-specialized library in the arts and it just seemed like a perfect fit, so that’s where I am now.

What are your responsibilities there?

As a manager, my primary job is to coach my staff to use their strengths and expertise to make the library more relevant to our community.

A typical day might involve a meeting with a community group, a meeting with a group of staff from various units talking about a library-wide program that’s going to happen in the future, a little time on the reference desk, maybe working on weeding or a overseeing a collection maintenance project.

There’s 8 floors in our central library and each floor has a subject focus. We cover art, theater, film, and dance. We’re totally the fun floor of the library.

One of the successes you’ve had is getting the community involved in the fine arts collection – like the recent vinyl sale at the library. What do you do to get the community involved in the collection?

Sometimes you get the tone right and sometimes you don’t.

For me (and what I tell my staff), being a public librarian, you are a librarian 24 hours a day. When you go to the coffeeshop, you’re still the face of the library.

Everyone on my staff is an artist of some sort – either a musician, or a dancer or an actor. Everyone has a life in the arts outside of the building.

I tell them, “Continue to support the arts and don’t make it a secret that you’re a librarian.”

Out of that, and because of the changes that are happening, there’s been a real openness to what’s possible.

4 library users peruse the record selection

(Jason Janik/Dallas Public Library)

For example, with the LP sale. There’s clearly an outside interest in LPs. We had this fantastic collection that was locked in a room and gathering dust.

To justify keeping the collection and make it visible to the public, weeding it and having this big sale and celebration makes that possible – it sounds really weird to some people in the community that by selling off the collection you’re actually protecting the collection.

It ended up being a really fantastic event. People were interested and surprised that the library had such a collection. It was something that was really fun.

You talked about how your primary job is to coach your staff. Can you share more about your approach management and leadership?

Because I am in a management situation where I cannot have the knowledge that my staff have, really focusing on them as individuals and their talents is extremely important and the coaching metaphor seems to be really apt in my situation. Staff have been selected for my library because they have certain talents.

People will perform the best when they’re engaged and they feel like they’re appreciated. My approach is to get to know the staff, really honor their differences.

I have one staff member who’s really into experimental music and he has really great ideas about programming and ways to engage the community. But he doesn’t get to do that 100% of the time – he still has to weed the film book collection. To be able to find things that are really personally meaningful for staff creates an environment where everybody feels respected, and respects each other, and gives a lot to the library.

Public libraries demand a lot from their staff. There aren’t a ton of jobs that tell you that you have to play this particular role in your community even when you’re not being paid, or that you have to work on Christmas Eve. It’s even more important in the library setting to respect the staff as individuals.

You have to have a passion. Every individual has to have that fire burning inside of them to serve the public.

It’s a really demanding job that can grind you down if you aren’t connected to values. I do consciously remind my staff why we’re there.

On the arts floor we have a very specific mission to promote cultural equity, to provide access to the arts to people who may not feel comfortable in other cultural spaces but feel comfortable in the library.

That’s a role that the public library in particular is really positioned to take and to push forward in our communities.

That’s a really beautiful mission.

That’s part of what drew me to libraries. If you look at any kind of polling about how people feel in public spaces, libraries are pretty much the friendliest spaces.

As an arts person with arts training, taking people who don’t have that training to art museums and watching how they react to that environment, you see very often in institutions that are trying to educate, people feel a little dumb.

I think museums are awesome. That’s not to knock museums. They’re greatly changing their spaces and making people feel more comfortable. [But] people go in and look at a piece of modern art and think that they should like every piece of art in the museum, and if they don’t it, they think “Oh well, art’s just not for me.”

Libraries have this really safe feeling so people think, “I can just go try it.”

There’s more of a self-directed learning in the library.

Hearing about your staff and how you’re coaching them, it sounds like you’re an awesome manager. When you came into this role where you were supervising staff, what skills did you already have and what did you need to develop?

I have always been a very empathetic person. I think I’m naturally fairly perceptive. I can read body language pretty well. So to some extent I brought those skills with me.

I had to develop intentionality. A team is not going to become a team unless you’re really intentional about creating opportunities for them to socialize and to see each other’s skills.

This is the first time I’ve supervised people who are more veteran staff than I am. I have a staff member who’s been with the library for 17 years. He has a lot of institutional knowledge. I’m figuring out that landscape and how to respect that knowledge and still coach him through a lot of change and see the change in a positive light while not feeling threatened.

So I would say being intentional and working on some of the skills I already possess.

It feels like you’re talking about my experience, as someone who’s coming in and supervising people who have been in a library for decades and managing change. needing to honor their knowledge and also lead them through change is this really tenuous landscape.

You have to do a lot of translating, and really thinking about how broad changes affect the individual. When we were hiring people and expanding library hours, I did the calculation: “How much desk time would you be doing with the new staff?”

I tried to break it down in very understandable ways that my existing staff’s life would change. “You’re going to go from doing 7 hours of desk time a day to 4 hours or 3 hours.”

Ugh – 7 hours of desk time?

If you’ve worked in a public library, you can understand that 7 hours of desk time in a day is a lot.

You talked about how exciting it is to be in a library figuring out the future. What do you see as the future of art and visual resources in public libraries?

Library has always been a place of self-directed learning. Parallel to the trends in technology and how much technology is making things easier, there’s also a trend toward going back to the handmade, to the tradition of crafts and exploring your creative side.

You can see interest in weaving and knitting and quilting. All of that has skyrocketed in recent years. The library is really well-suited to help people explore those kinds of interests and be a real stepping block to the arts communities.

The arts community can be – not exactly cloistered, but it can feel very much like a clique. In many cities it’s a very small community.  If you’re a printmaker, you know all of the printmakers in your city. Libraries can provide spaces for people to experiment and become more confident, and to connect with others.

Libraries have always been a community hub. Going forward, public libraries, particularly arts libraries, really need to reclaim that role as the place you can go and try out printmaking and find other quilters. We offer keyboard classes and guitar classes. We have an open mic night. There’s a real community beginning to form around those things, and I see that as the future of arts libraries.

It’s not just about art and art output, but bridging the gap between people who want to be supporters of the arts and the art itself.

What big projects are on the horizon for you in 2016?

cover of the dallas public library coloring bookWe had a couple of high profile things this fall, like the record collection and we produced a coloring book from local artists.

In 2016 we’re really looking at community-building endeavors. We’re looking at series of classes and ongoing events. We have an improv class that we’re going to start providing to the public completely free of charge. We’re going to have a series on

how to create photographic work in the spring, and then a professional skills for photographers series in the fall. We’re going to start doing a weekly arts-enrichment program for home-schooled kids.

We’re also trying to coordinate our programming a bit better to increase our impact on the community. For example in music, we have music classes where we teach basic keyboard and basic guitar. We now have an open mic night. We also in the spring and fall have weekly concerts on Sundays.

You can go learn music, you can go perform music, you can go listen to music. We’re looking at creating a series of classes on writing music, and then publishing music, and really strengthening our connections with people who self-publish music and the underground scene in Dallas.

If you really want to support the arts in a city, you really have to provide access to each part of the process. You can’t create art lovers if there’s no art to enjoy, and you can’t create robust arts-creating community unless you have every level of creator, from those that are pretty successful to those that are just starting out.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring library leaders?

Don’t let your fear guide you. It can be scary to step out and take a risk or suggest something that’s not been done or to make a critical comment.

Particularly in a field like libraries, we all tend to be more meek individuals. It really is important that leaders in the library are able to shed some of that fear and some of that meekness and let the values that led us into the profession lead us into pushing the profession forward.

Pay Attention!

Mary Kelly —  September 4, 2013 — 1 Comment
photo credit: theparadigmshifter via photopin cc

photo credit: theparadigmshifter via photopin cc

A while back I was talking with some librarians about the recent problems at the Urbana Free Library, concerning the weeding of a major portion of the collection. I was surprised that no one in my group had heard about this as it dominated my newsfeed, Twitter and Facebook. A few of these librarians responded that they “didn’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff.” I was a bit surprised.  How does one perform effectively in the information profession without paying attention to information?

People often talk about professional development as if that was limited to attending the occasional library conference or glancing at Library Journal. I am here to tell you, that won’t cut it in library world. An information professional pays serious attention to library current events, best practices, and technology. Of course this sounds daunting. When I say “pay attention,” I don’t mean you have to be an expert, but you have to be aware of the issues, events and landscape of modern library practice.

Reading professional literature should be a daily job function. I am using the term “professional literature” broadly. I don’t mean just the latest issue of Library Journal, but also librarian blogs, technology information, pop culture and even general news. Think how many times you have had to help people find tax forms, file for unemployment or troubleshoot some technology. Our job is helping people navigate the vast world of information. (I hope all of you are bracing for the Affordable Care Act questions coming our way!)

Library news is also a big deal. Even if you are not expert on matters of millages and operations, you better be aware of how your library is funded and any of the big issues at stake in your community.  Pay particular attention to how some libraries are handling “problems”. You don’t want to be a news story because you handled summer reading badly.

Staying plugged in to your network of professional librarian friends is also career smart. A good network of librarians has a LOT of information. Pooling knowledge, experience and ideas can help you avoid starting from square one and avoiding mistakes. Stay on top of the profession! Insist it be a regular part of your day. Your librarian network can also help you in finding expert information. If you are having a problem, I doubt you are the only one.

Bottom line, pay attention to your profession and your community. Your future success depends on it.

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