Talking to the Library Board

For some reason, I have a real thing for, well, this kind of thing:

The library asks a question, and tries to get people to write and post their answers.

Here are some of the ones I’ve done:

Books and Robots

books v tech

We’re currently asking a question based on the theme of Silicon Valley Reads (a one city, one book program, only with multiple cities. More like a one region, one book really.) The question is “Books and technlogy, friends or foes?’ Patrons can choose to write on a book or robot, which were cut out of colored paper using the children’s department’s die cutter. While the robots are disappearing frequently, they’re not reappearing on the discussion board. I think people just like robots. It is Silicon Valley, after all.

What Would You Grow?

IMG_20140127_101005

Shortly after I started our seed library, I cut out some leaves with the question, “If you could grow anything, what would you grow?” I put some by the gardening books and some by the reference desk, with instructions to drop in a box near the seed library (my secret trick to get people to figure out we had a seed library). This one actually got a decent number of responses. This year I finally got around to putting them up. My favorites:

"myself"

“myself”

"justice"

“justice”

Patron Driven Collection Development (aka What’s Your Favorite Book?)

what is your favorite book

At my other library, we prompted patrons for purchasing suggestions using post-it notes and an easel. We had a series of questions over a few months, and didn’t just look for collection suggestions, we also wanted their input on the use of some discretionary funding earmarked for furniture, etc. We got a lot of responses! This library has a single point service desk, and the question was displayed there, so there was a lot of foot traffic, by people who were thinking about the library’s collection (because they had just picked out books or movies), and it was something to do while waiting.  Transcription here: Whats your favorite book answers August 2013.

Here are some other people’s takes on this kind of thing:

Gratitude Trees

Cafe Catz Gratitude Tree by Flickr User eekim

People add tags describing or drawing something they’re grateful for.  A bit saccharine maybe, but I think they look really awesome.

Draw the Bay

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The Exploratorium, a crazy-cool very hands-on museum in San Francisco, had this prompt to draw the bay.  They scan the results and rotate them through a digital display.

Crowd-Sourced Christmas Tree

2012_tree

Isn’t that a beautiful tree?

Cover_Crane

It’s actually decorated with paper cranes, folded from wishes for peace from people all around the world. The project is called the World Tree of Hope, and it’s a gift from the Rainbow World Fund.

Voting with Your Dollars

more tips in the jar

Tip jars in cafes prompt customers to vote with their money.  This one is a trivia question, but opinion questions (e.g. Android or iPhone, Tupac or Biggie) also work.

Photos in order of appearance

SVR Board Photo by Me

Seed Library/Leaves Photos by Me

What’s Your Favorite Book by Me

Photo: Cafe Catz Gratitude Tree by Flickr User eekim

Draw the Bay Card Photo by Me

Photos: World Tree of Hope by World Rainbow Fund

Photo: Birch Cafe, via What’s Your System on Tumblr

Race and Collection Management

So here’s the situation.

A library I work at is in the middle of a much-needed weeding and reorganization project.  We had thousands of books that hadn’t been checked out in five years or more, and the collection is very fragmented – many genres are pulled out, even when they only have one or two shelves worth of books.  I think we can increase our circulation and make a more relevant, attractive collection with some reorganization.

So this post is a theoretical exercise, written especially for you, dear reader.  I want your advice!  I’m not in charge of the decision about how to reorganize this collection, but I’d like to make a good recommendation.  So please read more about our library, its community,  and the neighborhood. Then let me know what you would do.  Be warned, I’m going to talk about race in this post.  Race will be a factor in your decision.  It is one of the reasons I need your help; one of the reasons why I find this decision especially difficult.

The neighborhood this branch serves is, historically and currently, predominantly African-American, although racial diversity is increasing.  It is a neighborhood with a strong tradition of black activism.  The neighborhood has an increasing number of young families, of all races, and including a significant minority where one or both parents are immigrants.  There is also a significant minority of transient young people (18-25 or so), who squat in the neighborhood’s abandoned houses.  They often have face tattoos, but that is neither here nor there.  Finally, hipsters are creeping in. There is some gentrification occurring, but it is in very early stages.  Right now I find the neighborhood very exciting.  There are all kinds of people, from a great diversity of backgrounds and situations, with all kinds of  abilities and interests.  There is a strong feeling of community, and the people that use the library are grateful for its presence if not ardent supporters.  Without a doubt, black people are the heart and core of our library’s user-base.

I should also mention that there are only two black library workers, neither of which is full-time.  It’s a pretty small staff though, only two full time workers (both white), and then seven part time workers (not all white).  I am white, and one of those seven part time workers.

Lucille Baldwin Brown, first black public county librarian in Tallahassee, Florida

Lucille Baldwin Brown, first black public county librarian in Tallahassee, Florida

The library has a large African-American collection, which includes sub-collections of reference, oversize, non-fiction, biography, fiction, sci-fi, western, mystery, and short stories (those collections are all mirrored in the organization of the rest of the library, although the organization of the rest of the library will certainly change during this project).  In my mind, there are two significant purposes for having these separate African American collections. The first is practical: people who are interested in these books can find them all in one place.  The second is more symbolic: It says that the library celebrates African-American-ness.

The second, symbolic purpose, is especially important right now. It says that even though you may only see white people behind the desk, the library has a strong focus on the African-American community.  More importantly, it is a symbol that reinforces the importance of African American culture in the neighborhood, which is facing gentrification and more pertinently, whitening.  The danger in the change that is coming is not just that the poorer residents will be driven out, but that black residents will be driven out.  In fact, gentrification is probably the wrong term to use here. Gentrification and whitening are not the same thing; to say they are implies that black middle and upper classes don’t exist. What I’m specifically thinking about here is the trend in the Bay Area – out-migration, or black exodus, whatever you want to call it (For more about this, you could read about the decline of the black population in San Francisco here, here, and here).

So that is the context. Here is where the problem lies.

It is my observation from working at our single-point service desk (I do both reference and circulation duties) that the only part of the African American collection that circulates in any great number is the urban fiction, which is not a separate collection.  Within African American fiction, Teri Woods is just down the shelf from Alice Walker.  I worry that the people who come in to read Alice Walker can’t find her, and the people that come in for Teri Woods are missing the titles they could find serendipitously, if all the urban fiction was grouped together.  Also, not all urban fiction is black fiction.

I am not sure that the rest of the collections, the African American Sci-Fi, the Afro-American non-fiction, etc., are being used enough to justify having them separated out. The first of our five laws of library science, written by S.R. Ranganathan in 1931, is “books are for use.”  The fourth law is “Save the time of the reader.”  Placing books where people can easily find and use them, is a very important part of collection management.  As a former grocer, I know that where you place your product is a driver of sales. That’s why they put the candy bars up front and the milk in the back.  That’s why in the summer you’ll find shortcake next to the strawberries and fresh mozzarella next to the tomatoes.  If you want people to check out books, you have to put them where people will find them, even when they don’t already know they want to read them.  Serendipity is a powerful force in a public library.

However, the symbolic purpose of our African-American collection is not to be dismissed.

Libraries serve communities, as much as they serve individuals.  Our community is in a time of change. The library should support current residents (while keeping the future in mind).

So what would you do?

What aspects of circulation reports would you look at, in thinking about how you might reorganize your collections?

What percentage of use would justify having a genre pulled out?

Is the symbolic value of our African American collection important enough to override what the circulation reports might reveal?

Does the library have any business in trying to help preserve a community’s characteristics?

If you did decide to make changes, what changes would you make, and would you discuss them with patrons?

What have I not included, in my consideration and assessment of the situation?

Thanks in advance for your insight.

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.

Bookhuggers!

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.

Portrait

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.

The_Burning_of_the_Library_at_Alexandria_in_391_AD
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

 

Harriet Tubman’s Toes

So when I was a kid, a time so long ago it can be measured in multiple decades, I read a book about Harriet Tubman. The only part of the book that has stuck with me all these years is a passage about how because Harriet Tubman never wore shoes, her toes were long and straight. Immediately, Harriet Tubman became my foot role model.  I eschewed shoes (when socially acceptable) in order to cultivate the long toes of a Harriet Tubman.  Nowadays I will sometimes look at my grown-up toes, which have gotten a bit curly and bumpy with age, and feel I have let her memory down.

Harriet Tubman photo by H. B. Lindsley via the Library of Congress

I am sure the author did not intend the sort of fixation I developed, so why was this detail included? Was it an attempt to reclaim the hideous and oppressive poverty she grew up in? To say “it was awful to be a slave but at least she had nice feet”? And really, can this even be a historical fact? Is there a journal or oral history which recounts the beautiful toes of the woman who led them north?

You know what’s really amazing about being alive right now? Finally seeking to assuage my curiosity, tonight I Googled “Harriet Tubman Straight Toes.” I was wondering if there really was some sort of significance to this fact, the sort of significance that could be found by idle internet browsing. I did not find any unifying theory. However, my first listed result was in fact the Google preview  of the very passage in the very book I read.  It says:

She was accustomed to the scratchy feel of the tow-linen shirt she wore.  Because she went barefooted, the soles of her feet were calloused, but the toes were straight, never having known the pinch of new shoes or any kind of foot covering.

So I suppose it was really just the effort to use sense details to make Tubman’s experience more accessible for children.  To set the stage for a woman who did truly extraordinarily good things in spite of an extraordinarily deprived and abusive childhood.

This book was  written in 1955!  The copyright was renewed in 1983, just in time for me to enjoy, and the edition digitized on Google Books was printed in 1996.  Generations of children have had the opportunity to learn about the toes of Harriet Tubman.  And now we can reconnect with this resource, via our friends at Google.

What a wonderful world.

But what about when the armageddon comes?

Issues of access and technical skill aside, electronic materials have a huge practical advantage in terms of storage space and use (easier to search for and to search within the text).  As users grow more and more comfortable with accessing electronic information, there seems little reason to turn back to the physical.  While there may be a fondness for print, a sentimentality for the smell of old books and holding a new novel in one’s hand for the first time, electronic materials are also growing increasingly user friendly.  Although e-books are not yet be the preferred format for American readers, Anderson provides a short laundry list of necessary improvements such as “instant on-off, no boot-up time, high-contrast, high-resolution, jump instantly to a chapter or bookmark, durability, storage, up to 50 gigs to accommodate multimedia, compatibility with all networks, integrated animation and video, and acceptable digital rights management and intellectual property protection” (Anderson, 2009, p. 75).   Most of those features seem well within the grasp of a few more years of technological development, with the exception of the tall order for acceptable digital rights management.

In the past few centuries, as print became more practical and copyright laws grew to protect not only the work of the creator but the investments of industry, ownership of content has been increasingly divested from the hands of the consumer.  Now that we are returning to a more interactive media culture, precisely which content can be owned is becoming increasingly nebulous.  It seems as though we are on the brink of major decisions which could either change the culture of publishing and producing or could put a price point on each line of text.  Exactly how it will all shake out will be very interesting to watch.  Libraries must not only work to provide the best current access to quality resources, they must preserve that access for the future.  Libraries act as a reservoir of knowledge, holding information to quench the thirst of patrons.  If costs continue to increase, if copyright and ownership tighten down to charge per use, if resources can be taken away or leveraged at the whim of the distributor, libraries could face astronomical costs.

And what if all our wonderful technological infrastructure goes south? In a bleak depiction of the collapse of our world due to over population and exhaustion of our natural resources, primarily petroleum, Hecker describes a secular return to the monastic libraries of the dark ages.  He envisions academic libraries, perhaps in conjunction with public libraries, as precious repositories of pre-collapse culture and information.  In his future, library staff will band together to conserve physical materials, which will be the non-renewable resources of the post digital society.  While his dire warnings may never come to pass, it is worthwhile to think of the consequences of digital collapse, as so many other articles speak only of the infinite possibilities of technology.

Anderson, B. (2009). E-book Growth. Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, 28(1/2), 74-6.
Hecker, T. (2007, July). The Post-petroleum Future of Academic Libraries. Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 38(4),
183-199.

A Happy Library

I don’t work at a library yet but I am doing this resource building project for a non-profit.

The project was born in a bar, as all good projects are.  I was talking to the program director about wanting to build a cheese library when he said to me “you know, our library is really sad.  Two sad shelves of out dated-books.  It’s just really sad.”  We started talking about the possibility of me doing some volunteer work and I began to get really excited.  I was in 202 at the time and had visions of building a beautiful database for which I would create a custom classification system to catalog all the wonderful new resources I would find.

Then when I sat down to actually meet with the director and his co-worker, they began to talk about how it wasn’t just books they needed, but they wanted to improve the staff culture of resource sharing.  They told me that each staff member had their own go-to resources, but that there wasn’t really a practice of sharing those resources with each other.  No problem.  At this point I was taking Web 2.0, and I had wonderful plans to get the staff to build their own wiki, which would be populated with blogs and RSS feeds of their Delicious bookmarks.  I would show them how to set up feed readers, and they would spend their days reading and sharing electronic articles.  They would be so happy!

So next we took a staff survey, and I came to a staff meeting to talk about the results and show off some of my new favorite web tools and resources.  I was able to wow them with some of the possibilities, but the take away was really that while tools and resources were exciting, the staff was not so interested in actually using them.  They voiced the opinion that they would like resources for their clients to use, and that those resources should be electronic.  Fair enough.

Which brings me to where I am now.  We’ve decided to use a wiki to list electronic, held print items, and recommended off-site print items in four main categories.  Staff and clients will be able to use the wiki to find information for the clients.  We will focus on electronic resources, but will also aim to beef up the print library.  The recommended items will also serve as a wish list for the organization.

So how does publishing affect this project?  In a broader sense, we are exploring the print versus electronic issue. In order to make this project useful, it will need to be easy to integrate usage of the resources into practices with and by the clients.  There are computers available for clients to use at the organization, but they are mostly in another area of the building.  Clients may not have computer or internet access at home.  While print resources don’t require any special equipment, there is concern that items which are lent out will not make it back to the organization.  Will teens (many with literacy issues) sit and read a book in an office building?

Because we will be purchasing at a low volume, we will not run into the complexity of issues raised in a larger library.  My plate is full with this project, I can only imagine the headache it would be to expand this more basic question into the details of which serials justify a $14,000 subscription.  As librarians and library students we get excited about all sorts of things that the general public doesn’t really give a hoot about.  I think that not only must you balance between print and electronic, you must balance between what is practical (what will actually get used) and what is essential to the library’s reputation or image.

Nerds Attack! How you can defend yourself with a collection development policy..

This article on collection development policies jumped out at me because I’m a bit of a sci-fi/fantasy geek.  Nikkel and Belway describe the attempts of an academic library staff to weed a truly astonishing collection of science fiction, ranked “10th in the world in terms of size” (2009, p. 197).  The collection had began in 1966 as a gift by a faculty member, and grew to over 190,000 items (at a school of only 2,200 students).  While impressive, “the collection had been little used for several years, and systematic collection development and management had long since ceased”  (2009, p.196).  The library’s lack of a cohesive collection development policy had allowed books to be added (generally at reader suggestion) without any attempt at creating balance. 

When the library decided that the collection should be weeded to make room for new projects and storage, “responses to the decision ranged from confusion to outrage to thoughtful defenses urging caution and offering advice on how to assess the collection, ironically resulting in more attention than the collection had received in years” (2009, p. 197).  Eventually the librarians sat down with faculty members to hammer out guidelines for weeding as well as future development.   Because no “coherent collection development policy, except for a short statement appearing on the library’s Web site, had been articulated for the collection at any point in the four decades it had been in existence” (2009, p. 202), it had fallen into disuse and irrelevancy.  Meetings with faculty resulted in a number of resolutions, including subtle promotion of donations for a new library (where the science fiction could be housed) and a new collection development policy.  Ultimately “the project … increased interest in the collection and the library, both on and off campus (2009, p.204)

Nikkel & Belway articulate the need for a collection development policy in practical terms, through the illustration of the results of not having one.  Although the end result of this project seems postive, with better understanding and involvement from both staff and faculty, a clear document would have served to guide the collection through continued use.  At the very least it validates Evans and Saponaro’s assertion that “no gift is ever free”  (2005, p. 61).

Evans, G., & Saponaro, M.  (2005).  Developing library and information center collections.  Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
Nikkel, T. & Belway, L. (2009). When worlds collide: Dismantling the science fiction and fantasy collection at the University of New Brunswick, Saint John. Collection Management, 34(3), 194-208.