Hoarding is not collection development
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Making a Collection Count

Practical Librarian

This is the place that we put more serious discussions of librarianship.

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Primary Source Material in the Public Library

You may be tempted to keep older history materials, such as those written during the time the event was happening, because they are “important” or as valuable primary source material. Here’s the thing about primary sources: they are valuable and important; crucial to good research, even. Here’s the other thing about primary sources: they rarely belong in your average neighborhood public library.  Why not? I can hear you shaking your heads! Why on earth would a public library weed primary source material?

If your public library’s mission includes a statement about archiving and preserving, then yes, primary sources are for you! If your public library’s mission involves providing college or professional-level research materials, then yes, primary sources are for you as well! For everyone else, whose public library missions are to support the educational, entertainment, and life-long learning needs of the community through popular materials and programming (for example), primary sources are not for you. You’ll be better off with books that put history in its proper context: the past.

Public libraries can serve the research needs of K-12 and maybe even community college students, as well as interested laypeople, through popular history books written in the last decade or so. Our public library customers are not doing deep historiography research requiring them to put their hands on primary source material. (And if they are, they can easily be referred to a library whose mission is to provide that kind of research material.)

And by the way, “preserving” does not mean keeping dusty volumes on shelves forever. It involves climate control and white gloves. You’re not doing the books, or society, any favors by piling primary sources in back rooms or cramming them into overfull shelves “in case someone needs them.” You’re not preserving anything. You’re actually damaging them, spreading mold, and encouraging dust.

There are plenty of good reasons why public library patrons might be interested in primary source material, but they rarely need it in the form of a book. The beauty of digitization means that diaries, speeches, plays, manuscripts, maps, and artwork are widely available to anyone, anywhere, any time! If Mr. Jones, who loves to read about history, wants to read the Emancipation Proclamation, or Susan B. Anthony’s speech on women’s right to vote, or Lou Gehrig’s farewell speech to Yankees fans, I can put copies of those documents in his hands in seconds! I can even get audio copies sometimes. (http://www.history.com/speeches is great, you guys!)

Here are some great links to digitized primary source material:

What about people in areas of the country without the internet? Yes, they do exist! Those may be the areas where primary sources are more appropriate on public library shelves, depending on their building’s organization, structure, size, staffing, etc. If they can’t manage to keep these materials appropriately stored or don’t have the space, they should consider sending patrons to their state library, a local university, or even special libraries or museums where appropriate. Perhaps locally-relevant primary sources could be kept at City Hall, in the county clerk’s office, at the local historical society, or even at a school, church, or service organization hall.  It is better to refer to an institution that exists to archive and preserve primary sources, or at the very least one that can store or display them appropriately, than to handle them badly. Damaged primary sources help no one. Even closed-stacks-by-appointment-only is a better service than randomly interfiled primary sources on too-full shelves.

We’re all ears for other ideas on this subject! Let us know what you think!


Size Matters: Estimating Shelf Capacity

crowded-shelf1Once upon a time, Holly mentioned that I had a special formula for determining shelving capacity. This brought about a flurry of requests from many people. The reality is that I had little scraps of paper with a few notes and a half-baked spreadsheet estimating the linear feet of available shelving in my library. I have been swamped with my day job, and I have been meaning to write up my process for a while now. I apologize in advance if this doesn’t live up to the hype.

I used to work in a very tiny library. We were literally spilling out of our shelves. In order to make my case for more aggressive weeding, I felt we should talk about the maximum capacity of physical items for our library. It was time to get down and dirty and determine maximum capacity for each shelf and thereby the entire library. I was also interested in making sure we had enough wiggle room to allow the Pages to actually shelve items without jamming.

I have a caveat: my project focused on library and collection capacity and was only an ESTIMATE. Obviously, library items are of different sizes, and I certainly wasn’t going to measure every item. I decided to use an estimate for each item type or each collection. This was most appropriate for my small public library. I already knew we were over capacity by just looking. I was only trying ballpark a number for planning purposes, as well as for future building projects.  This is only a SWAG number (Scientific Wild Ass Guess), as the engineer in my life would say.

Length of your shelves

My stacks were pretty consistently three feet long, except for a section of my easy reader collection, which was an irregularly-sized shelf. Depending on their height, your stacks might have between 3-8 shelves per stack. This also depends on the spacing between shelves.

Number of shelves available

Count the number of shelves in a section. I counted every shelf in every stack, since my library was small enough to do so. If you don’t use the bottom or top shelves because of difficulty reaching, leave them out of the total (unless that shelf space could be used in the future). Again, adjust your count based on your library’s set up. If the stacks have a consistent number of shelves, you can simply multiply stacks by shelves to come up with your number. For example, if every stack has six shelves and every row consists of six stacks, 6 x 6 = 36 shelves. My stacks were irregular in number of shelves, but consistently 3 feet long.  Now you can include length: 36 shelves X 3 feet each = 108 feet of shelving.

Average width

Obviously, a picture book takes up less space on a shelf than a big fat novel or reference book.  Since there is this distinction, I separated my collections into easy readers, picture books, juvenile fiction, adult nonfiction, etc.  Again, my library is small enough that I could come up with an average book size for each collection. For my purposes, I used about a ¼ inch as an average width for a picture book and 1 inch for the average fiction/nonfiction book.  This doesn’t have to be a “perfect” number. The point is to get a pretty good estimate. You can also estimate the number of books you can fit within 1 foot (12 inches). If each book has an average width of 1 inch, then you can use 12 books as an average number of books shelved per foot. I suggest going down to 11 inches to make for more wiggle room.

Break it down

Go section by section through your collection.  If picture books have dedicated space of their own, calculate an average number of picture books per shelf. Then calculate the average for DVDs, audio books, paperbacks, etc. Trying to make one average of all the books in all the sections of the library would be pointless, so calculate specific averages for each shelving range, collection, or item type – whatever works best in your particular setup. (For my project I did not count the oversized books since we didn’t have very many. I also hate oversized books since they mess up my estimate.)

Why bother?

Cramped and packed shelving is my personal definition of hell.  It looks terrible and it prevents browsing. Patrons and staff should be able to keep the collections useable by leaving enough room for shifting or display. In my perfect world, shelves 2/3 full would make it easy to browse and to keep tidy.

Create a spreadsheet with each section getting its own line.  I have included a portion of my spreadsheet so you can see how it works.  It really is basic math of books per foot multiplied by number of feet of shelving.  Of course this means a completely full shelf with no room for shifting and browsing. Because I want the Pages not to kill me for over stuffing shelves, I will reduce my shelf capacity (number of books per foot multiplied by shelf length) by an appropriate percentage.

Extra Credit for Collection Nerds

Holly’s Shelf Balancing articles are an interesting way to examine allocation of collection space. I also like to compare my shelf list to the estimated shelving capacity. My library was about 20% over capacity consistently according to my estimated number, and boy did it look like it.

Please comment and share your experiences, as I am always looking to a figure out a new way to parse collection data.


(Click for larger image.)

Managing Periodicals

magazinesWhen I started my current job, I was assigned a collection to manage: periodicals.  Honestly, I was less than excited about that.  I was responsible for periodicals in my old job too, and was hoping to get away from it!  I have a lot of admiration for librarians and library staff who work with periodicals because they can be…difficult.

The good thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  I have to keep up with title changes, changes in publication frequency (from weekly to monthly, for example), and recently the regular dropping-off of magazines that are just plain ceasing publication.

The bad thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  What you know to be true today may or may not be true tomorrow.  You have to roll with the changes, expect them, and make frequent decisions.

We purchase the majority of our periodicals through EBSCO.  We have some direct orders when it is significantly cheaper or when a title is not available through EBSCO, but those get tricky to manage, so we like the added services of a vendor.  They warn us about a lot of the title and frequency changes I mentioned above, and it’s nice to have the bulk of our subscriptions on one annual renewal list.  Direct orders tend to expire all over the calendar, so we have to keep up with them on our own.  There are lots of magazine vendors out there, but my library has been pretty happy with EBSCO for years before I ever came on board. (This is not an ad or endorsement of any particular vendor. I’m simply stating my experience, which is with EBSCO.)

Yet, I am really surprised at the difference in price sometimes between the publisher’s direct subscription price and EBSCO’s.  For example, Billboard magazine is about half the price directly, a savings of nearly $150.  The New England Journal of Medicine is less than half of EBSCO’s cost when subscribed directly.

So, I go through our annual renewal list with a fine-toothed comb.  I look at circulation figures (which can be misleading in such a browsable collection, since many titles are used in-house but never checked out).  I also look at annual price against frequency (four issues per year at $100 per year is $25 per title, quite exorbitant!).  I ask my co-workers if certain titles enhance their other collections in some way, or if they might use them as part of their selection process.  I also balance religious and political magazines so that our collection is not one-sided in any way.

I think of this as my annual weeding of the magazine collection.  I’ve weeded subscriptions that are no longer pulling their weight.  Titles like the New England Journal of Medicine, Billboard, and North Korean Review are not well-used in my library, so they have been removed.  I also look at “best of” lists for new magazines and consider adding some new titles. Every year since 2009, which is when I started working here, I have cancelled more titles annually than I have added. That wasn’t necessarily my goal, but is indicative of the culture of this collection.  The saved money has been mostly re-allocated to Flipster, our e-magazine collection (another EBSCO product). We duplicate some titles between print and electronic, and others we have chosen to move exclusively to electronic format.

Periodicals is not an easy collection, but is challenging.  I only take this focused of a look at the magazine collection once a year when the big renewal list comes around.  The rest of the year is spent managing donations, adopted titles, and all those changes that crop up.  Luckily for me, my library has assigned a circulation clerk to this collection who handles all of the ordering, cancelling, and the technical services end of things (processing, cataloging, checking in issues, etc.)  She is wonderful, and I think we make a good team on this tricky collection!



Modified from original post, which was published at http://hhibner.blogspot.com/2011/06/managing-periodicals.html on 6/6/2011

Image creative commons courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/tonythemisfit/3142216126

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