I’m in Your Library, Hugging Your Books

So the post I wrote (about being able to understand why the director of the Urbana library might have made her fateful decision) was recently maligned, misunderstood, and groused about on a FriendFeed discussion.

Among other criticisms, it was surmised that I might be

one of those who regards some librarians as ‘bookhuggers’ because they haven’t moved past those obsolete objects.


I might consider myself a bookhugger.  I love books.  Even though I’ve been reading almost exclusively eBooks for over two years, I continue to somehow acquire paper books and my personal library is overflowing.  Literally.  My bookshelves cannot contain the bounty. A month or so ago, I finally brought myself to get rid of about 15% of my physical collection – mostly things I already had an e-copy of, or that I knew were available virtually.  My husband, misty-eyed, told me he was proud of me.  Even with this culling, I’ve still got towers of books tucked away in various corners of our tiny apartment.  And aren’t I lucky that eBooks take up so little space!  No one ever need know what I’m hoarding digitally.

Here’s how I think about library books though, and this is probably kind of silly (another recent critique of my writing.  Guilty as charged).  Books in the library are like animals on the farm.  They may be cute and cuddly, but you still have to be able to dispatch them in order to make a living.  Books in the library need to work, or they need to go.

Books are the heart of the library.  They aren’t obsolete, they are the number one thing patrons associate with us.  And as such, librarians need to make sure they shine.  Collections need to be useful and interesting for their communities.  And the nonfiction books need to contain recent and accurate information.

Another thing I was criticized for, was for saying 10 years is old for a book.  I’ve been thinking about it, and I stand by what I said.  10 years is old.  Again, I don’t mean that all books older than ten are useless and outdated.  And I don’t mean that getting rid of all the books older than ten is a good way to start weeding.  It’s not. However, I do think you could look at a collection where 50-75% of the books are ten years old and say “this collection is old.”  I gave some reasons why in that post about the Urbana debacle.**

I did a cursory search in LISTA to see if any studies on collection age have been published.  Only one popped out, which had at least a few statistics on age:

Colom, H. M. (2010). Juvenile Science Nonfiction: A Comparison of the Collections of a Rural, a Suburban, and an Urban Public Library.Current Studies In Librarianship30(1/2), 79-94.

The researcher compares Juvenile science collections (500s) in an urban, suburban, and rural library.  Colom found that in the rural library, 42.19% of this section was 10 years or older, in the suburban library 44.9% of this section was 10 years or older, and in the urban library only 36% were ten years or older.  You can’t conclusively extrapolate anything for adult nonfiction collections from this single statistic from a single study of three juvenile science collections, but here at least is an example of collection age, which shows that in the same section of three different libraries 50-75% (ok, 57.81-64%) of books are less than ten years old.***

I’d be interested in looking at the ages of other collections, to see what an “old” collection really looks like.

Even though we make weeding decisions on a case by case basis, librarians should also be able to make generalizations about the state of their collections.  Being able to look at the big picture, can help librarians create vibrant collections, by having a vision for future selection and weeding.

You know, when they’re not busy hugging books.

in ur library, huggin ur bukz

**Here’s another thing I’m basing that reasoning on.  The CREW method is a pretty well respected and widely used set of weeding guidelines.  It provides rules of thumb for weeding the Dewey classes.  The criteria include copyright date, circulation figures, and characteristics of the book itself.  Here is an example of how the guidelines are formatted, and what they mean:

“8/3/MUSTIE” means: “Consider a book in this class for discard when its latest copyright is more than eight (8) years ago; and/or, when its last circulation or in-house use was more than three (3) years ago; and/or, when it possesses one or more of the MUSTIE factors… If any one of the three parts of the formula is not applicable to a specific subject, the category is filled with an “X”

You can take a look at the whole thing here. The Guidelines by class start on page 61, and there is an overview chart on page 105.  Here are the only classes where copyright date is not applicable (X), or where a copyright date longer than 10 years is listed:

101 (Philosophy) – 15 years, 398 (Folklore) – X, 550 (Earth Sciences) – X, 629 (Automobile Repair) – X, 709 (Art History) – X, 720 (Architecture) – X, 740 (Drawing and Decorative Arts) – X, 800 (Literature) – X, 920 (Biography) – X

*** This is a math trick.  Or maybe an optimist’s trick.  Because of course, saying 50% of a collection is less that 10 years old is the same thing as saying 50% of a collection is more than 10 years old.  

How Can We Sleep for Grief? And Other Ideas About Weeding.


Last weekend my mother said to me, “I just don’t understand why libraries have to throw away books.”

I said, “Well Mom, public libraries aren’t archives. It’s important that the collection is of use and interesting to the community. Think about if you were browsing a shelf of twenty musty old books, and one interesting one. Do you think you would find it? It’s more important that people are able to find and use books, than to hoard every book the library has purchased.” I said some other stuff too. I was very eloquent.

My mom said, “Yes, well can’t they just keep them? If they aren’t keeping books, I worry about the ones we will lose forever.”

Oh, Mom.

My mom is a wonderful, gentle person, who thinks learning and reading are incredibly worthwhile pursuits. She is an excellent library patron. She uses them regularly, and she taught her kids to use them too. I wouldn’t have become a librarian if my mom hadn’t hadn’t nourished my own love of libraries. My mom is the kind of person that libraries owe their living to. I think I just said I do, too.

How do you tell a person who loves books that you will be throwing them away on a regular basis?

And more, how do we reassure people that the books we throw away aren’t lost forever?

I talked to my mom a little bit about the weeding process. I talked about criteria that we use before we get rid of books and how now before we get rid of a last copy we can look on WorldCat, to see if anyone else has it, or on Amazon to see if used copies are cheap and plentiful. I talked about how certain libraries do give themselves archival missions, for example the entire core of the Main branch of the Oakland Public Library is devoted to storing fiction, and if you want to read all the Perry Mason novels, that is the place to visit.

Here’s another library secret that I’m not sure we should share: some books are really crappy. Some books probably aren’t worth saving. If you are a serious lover of books, I think it’s difficult to realize this until you become a librarian looking at the breadth of your collection, and discover that no one has ever checked out your Sunset guide to knitting because it’s a thin volume smack in the middle of 15 different editions of Crafting with Ducks. This is a made up example, but it is still true. You don’t need all 15 editions. One or two will do. And after the duck crafting craze goes away, you may not even need those.

And of course books don’t always get thrown away. There are library book sales, and charitable organizations, and sometimes you just put a big box in the lobby with a “Free to Good Home” sign. And personally, I do like to keep a very small percentage of musty old clunkers on the shelf. This is part of the library experience. You want patrons to discover a tucked away old treasure: to open up a book and see check out dates and signatures from 1965, or 1944 or even earlier. This is like the flaw the rugmakers put in, because only God can be perfect. This keeps the library human, and reminds people that they are next in a long line of their community’s thinkers and readers. I know I sound a bit like a whack-a-doodle here, but this is part of the art of collection development.

But musty old books should be a miniscule part of an otherwise limber and useful collection.  At the library, books need to work for their keep.

Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia has a bit where the main character learns about the burning of the library at Alexandria. She says:

“….the enemy who burned the great library of Alexandria without so much as a fine for all that is overdue. Oh, Septimus! — can you bear it? All the lost plays of the Athenians! Two hundred at least by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides — thousands of poems — Aristotle’s own library!….How can we sleep for grief?”

Her tutor reassures her:

SEPTIMUS: By counting our stock. Seven plays from Aeschylus, seven from Sophocles, nineteen from Euripides, my lady! You should no more grieve for the rest than for a buckle lost from your first shoe, or for your lesson book which will be lost when you are old. We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it. The missing plays of Sophocles will turn up piece by piece, or be written again in another language. Ancient cures for diseases will reveal themselves once more. Mathematical discoveries glimpsed and lost to view will have their time again. You do not suppose, my lady, that if all of Archimedes had been hiding in the great library of Alexandria, we would be at a loss for a corkscrew?”

Change happens in libraries too. The books go out, and the books come in again.

Photo By Ambrose Dudley, (fl. 1920s) (The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 357910) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Another Library Scandal: They’ve Thrown Out All the Preciouses

Here’s some recent library scandal: Deb Lissak, the director of the Urbana public library, created a list of all the adult non-fiction books, sorted it by publication date, and asked 12 new part time employees to pull and discard all of the titles that were ten years or older.  This happened while the person in charge of the collection was out of the country.

Then someone who writes for a local online magazine noticed what was happening and was  outraged.  She stated that 50 or possibly even 75% of the collection was being removed.  Thousands of books were being discarded!  As fervor grew, various steps were taken to stop this from happening and punish the director.  A petition was even started on change.org to “Hold a public forum and make Lissak explain her decisions.”

There is a lot of very detailed information about this available online, most at the original article here.  People are outraged.  People are *appalled.*

I am not.

Here’s why: ten years is old.  Think about what the world was like ten years ago.  We had never had an African American President.  We had only just begun our war with Iraq.  Know any 8 year olds?  They weren’t born yet.  Pluto was still a planet.  Facebook wasn’t yet a twinkle in Zuckerberg’s eye, and you could not have Tweeted about this.  You most likely would not have had a smart phone anyway.  What were you wearing ten years ago?  Would you care to see it featured in a style book?  Here’s a scary one: would you like to take ten year old advice on how to manage your HIV?  How about ten year old recommendations on how to get a new job?

Sure there are ten year old books that are still relevant.  Poetry, Shakespeare, art books, etc. etc.  And there are books that are more than ten years old that would be important to a community, such as a collection of essays by city founders. I would not suggest that a library get rid of all books that are more than ten years old.  But I don’t think it’s an appalling thing to suggest.  Just a little short-sighted.

Here’s another thing: books wear out.  Say a book was checked out once a month for ten years.  That’s 120 uses!  At one point in time, eBook publishers tried to suggest that 27 uses was the lifespan of a library book.  It’s not, but even if we double that, that’s much fewer than 120.  It is wishful thinking to assume that your books would go out once a month for ten years though.  Say they went out once a month for two years, then every other month for two years, then twice a year thereafter.  That’s 24+12+(2*6) or 48 uses.  That is still a well-used book.  That is a book that’s tumbled around in 48 backpacks, maybe been taken into a few steamy bathrooms, and probably had a little chocolate wiped somewhere.  That might be a book with still some use in it, but it also might be a worn out book.

Here’s the final reason I’m not appalled.  I can see how this decision was made.  The 12 new employees had been hired to do RFID tagging, a process where weeding (discarding) beforehand is highly recommended. They had started, but the tags and training were not in place for them to do the work they were hired to do.  So the director had 12 staff people she needed to find work for.

Staff are at a premium in libraries.  There are not enough people to do the work.  A surfeit of employee time needs to be utilized, in the most cost-effective way possible.  Many people who are upset about what happened are decrying the waste of taxpayers’ money.  But staff also cost taxpayers money.  In fact, staff cost taxpayers more money than books.  I can see that this project might sound like a good use of extra employees.

The fact that 50-75% of the collection was more than ten years old seems to indicate that not enough weeding had been happening.  Now, some librarians are hoarders. Serious book hoarders.  I have no idea if this librarian was, but I can also see how there might have been some temptation to get in there and clean up while she was out of town.

So I can see how this decision might have been made, and I’m not appalled by it.

It was not a good decision.  The director’s plan should have been rethought, and reworked.  She should have looked at circulation statistics as well.  She should have put processes in place to catch the valuable and irreplaceable items. She should not have tried to apply a one-size-fits-all criteria to the collection.

But I can’t see vilifying her for making this decision.  It probably sounded like a good idea at the time.

Miss Grace Sutherland


Maker Training

This weekend I was invited last-minute to a really awesome day of training with SparkFun, a company of “electronic enablers.” They’re in the middle of a cross-country tour, presenting workshops for teachers, students, and librarians on different do-it-yourself tech activities, with a heavy dose of Maker ideology.

I must admit that up until now I’ve been a little dismissive of libraries’ adoption of the Maker Movement. Maker Spaces must appear somewhere on the How to Be a Cool Library list. There’s a lot of buzz, and people seem eager to tick the “We’re building a maker space!” box.

This weekend made me think differently.

Remember how trendy web 2.0 was a few years ago? People embraced the concept with kind of an acquisitory spirit: often hopping on top of the latest tool without a clear idea that patrons were interested, or that they’d be able to incorporate it successfully into library service. They wanted on the bandwagon! Now that the initial fervor has calmed down though, web 2.0 enthusiasm has produced some wonderful results. Libraries are more participatory, and are joining patrons in their online spaces. We’re engaging more with our communities, both in virtual and physical spaces.

I think library Maker Spaces will end up with the same type of positive results. After the initial craze has died down, we’ll have made some really positive changes to library service. The Maker movement is about being able to create, evaluate, and change technology, instead of passively consuming it. And I don’t think anyone understands better than a public librarian how important tech literacy is. Library evolution is broadening our traditional commitment to literacy: we must include technology. The Maker movement is an important ingredient in getting there.


Below are some of my notes from the training, as well as some of my terrible photography:


1. e-Textiles: Sewed a circuit to make an LED light up, with conductive thread.

  • Chicks dig it (or rather, “leverages to young women”)
  • approx $6/kit
  • Talked about The Arduino Lilypad
  • Sewing a circuit slows down the time frame and you think about it differently.
  • Thread comes from medical tech – they use silver and nylon because it’s anti-microbial. So happens that it’s also conductive.

2. Squishy circuits: Used conductive (and insulating) playdough to make a circuit.


  • Kids and PhDs love it
  • It smelled really good.
  • Cheap!
  • Recipe online – simple to make
  • Reading is So Delicious connection?
  • If you dropped a cell phone in de-ionized water, it would still work. It is the ion content of the water that destroys the phone. So, use deionized (distilled water) to make the insulating playdough.
  • Long on positivity: the long leg of the LED light is the positive side
  • LEDs in parallel have the same resistance, LEDs in series increase the resistance.
  • Ohm’s law: voltage = current x resistance
  • Build a hamburger with bilateral symmetry

3. Scratch:Easy programming tool. Made a character walk around, spin, etc.


  • “Scratch is programming for artists”
  • Teaches Basic Animation and critical thinking
  • Kids use it to animate meitosis and meiosis
  • When teaching kids and they are having problems, first ascertain what they want it to do

4. Pico Board: Plugged the Pico Board in to the computer to use with Scratch. The Pico Board has different switches and sensors; it has a microphone so you can make something react to sound, a fader, a button, and more. Used in conjunction with Scratch. Could see how you could use the two to make a video game, although I think it would be a long program (or series).


  • Libraries are lending Pico boards
  • Connect Pico board to a laptop and use it to control Scratch

5. E-Origami: Used paper and copper tape to make a circuit switch, which we attached to the Pico board with alligator clips

  • Could also use tin foil
  • Put tin foil all over the floor and then put some on the bottom of peoples’ shoes
  • Made e-origami and used conductive playdough to connect the copper tape (complete the circuit)

6. Makey Makey: (video, no hands-on). Make a banana piano, Water Pan Dance Dance Revolution, playdough Nintendo controller Can use with Scratch.

  • One presenter created a piano like the one in Big with Tom Hanks – used black and white foam, and copper tape with the ground and live wires spiraling slow closely together that your bare foot would make the connection
  • As long as there’s a way to complete the connection, you can do anything
  • Basically it’s checking for continuity, it does not send a current through you. Touch screens work this same way

7. Arduino: Simple computer, with simple programming tool. Made an LED light up. Learned how to change the way it behaved based on changing code,including changing from digital to analog behavior. Never been so elated by seeing a light go on – I did that!


  • Arduino is like Raspberry Pi, but more accessible
  • SparkFun is using them for weather balloons that go to the edge of space.
  • /* */ – bracket code with this to take it out of action
  • Said something about teaching Arduino was like running a cooking show
  • Used Fritzing to demo the boards – a good teaching tool
  • Digital is a switch (on/off), analog is a dimmer
  • Analog writes 0 to 255, reads four times that

Theory/Ideology/Bon Mots:

  • We’re using technology to inhabit new environments
  • We’re generating tech content, not consuming it
  • For SparkFun, the value of the company is community. Everything is open source – even the hardware schematics are online.
  • 3D printing creates the possibility to decentralize manufacturing, to make it a cottage industry.
  • Writing a program is the new literacy
  • Interesting orgs: Farm Hack, Noisebridge, Harbor Freight (cheap tools), Really Useful Box from the Really Useful Products
  • Technology as a raw material
  • SparkFun is building kits that libraries could put on the shelf for check out

There was one suggestion which they kept reiterating: to do the maker activity as a Pop-Up Program. I thought it was a good suggestion, because many of the things were a lot of fun, innovative, interactive, and portable. I can imagine patrons saying, “you can do this at the library!?”

Also, they had the most awesome service dog: