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  Again, I don’t mean that all books older than ten are useless and outdated.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.  


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