Do you save extra copies of books just in case they may be needed in the future? When you see something popular, classic, unique, or expensive in the donation pile, but you know you already have one in the collection, do you save it for “just in case?” If you have storage space, this is a fantastic idea! Squirrel away an extra copy or two of any item you think might be useful someday. Items get damaged, stolen, and lost, and rather than buy a new copy you just pull one from your cache. This foresight can save a strapped budget from having to re-purchase items. After all, wouldn’t you rather spend your budget on new titles? This can also be true of weeded extra copies. When John Green’s latest book isn’t quite as popular, put the extra five or ten copies in storage for when the movie is made. You know the books will be in demand again when that happens, and there’s a really good chance that it will happen.
However, (you knew I couldn’t leave it at that, didn’t you?) I caution you is to be realistic. A popular, fun DVD from 2006 is now ten years old. No one is banging down the door and writing nasty letters to my Library Board because we no longer have Borat or Talladega Nights (both popular 2006 movie releases). If we have them in our collection, enough space, if they circulate regularly, and aren’t all scratched up, great! We will keep them! But are we keeping a cache of Borat DVDs in a cupboard somewhere? No, we are not. You have to make choices, and your storage space is probably precious enough that you should choose your backup copies carefully. Keep whatever shows lasting preference to your users (yes, even if that is Borat!). Know your users and keep what they want. We’ll be keeping back-seasons of Downton Abbey and letting Borat go, but that’s just us.
A storage pile can become an unruly mess if ignored. We have a set of shelves in our librarian staff area where some extra copies of donated books are stored. I happened to notice that there were a bunch of history books there, saved by the librarian that previously managed that collection (now managed by me). They were all perfectly reasonable choices of things to keep. The problem was that they were ignored and forgotten for so long that they got seriously dusty. Like, beyond dust bunnies and into serious cling territory. It was an allergy-sufferer’s worst nightmare. Not only that, but some of the items were actually damaged from being stored at a funny angle. Pages were all bent up, covers were creased, the books were beyond dirty, and they were completely unusable. I did salvage a few things from the pile (such as a perfect copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and a perfect copy of Persepolis, which one of our teen book clubs is reading in May. Both will be put into immediate use.) Sadly, everything else got boxed up and moved out. The shelves got cleaned up and made ready for future storage-worthy items. There are still some good book club-worthy copies of various titles located there, but they’re all in pretty good shape.
To avoid this mess in the future, this storage collection could be added to our collection guidelines document. We should set rules as to how long we keep items there. Perhaps each librarian should be held more accountable for the items they place in storage. When the time’s up, the items have to be moved on to a book sale or wherever unwanted donated items go. You may have to be a bit hard-nosed about this! You can’t keep items forever on the off chance you “might” need them someday. After a year or two (or whatever your storage space can handle), weed the storage shelves.
One more thing about being realistic: are you looking up those titles on a semi-regular basis to see if you need a copy? Do you just know what’s in the storage pile? Do you actually look in the storage pile when titles go lost or missing? A pile of potentially great items becomes a pile of broken, dirty crap unless you actively move things in and out. A pile of broken, dusty crap is wasteful. Someone could have purchased those items from the used book sale and made money for the library years ago with most of what I discarded in boxes today. And no, I did not look them up to see if we own them. They were too broken to matter. Storage items should be ready to go at a moment’s notice. (Side note: the items I discarded today are my fault, not that of the previous librarian. He was gone for more than a year before I even came across these copies. I vow to pay better attention to the storage pile!).
My challenge to you is to look at your storage items. Some questions you should answer:
- Would the storage space be better utilized in another way? Do you need the space for something else?
- How often have you used items from your storage pile? Figure out what the return on investment is. How much do you store vs. how much do you put into use from that source?
- How much time and effort are you putting into making storage items findable and usable compared to the number and frequency of actual uses?
- Are your storage items findable? Are they in usable condition?
- How else could storage copies be put to better use? Is there a prison, teen center, church, or community organization that can use them immediately?
- Is immediate use elsewhere better than potential, possible, someday use at your library? In some cases, I’d say no. Expensive local history books are worth keeping a stockpile! Extra copies of Borat can go to the teen center for immediate enjoyment.