Hoarding is not collection development
Taking Your Library Career to the Next Level
PLA Weeding Manual
Making a Collection Count

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Practical Librarian

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

Time of death….

Wilderness Gear coverThis was written when I was a little more than irritated about the umpteenth time I have seen more tape than book. The “rescue at all costs” a 5 dollar paperback is one of my top library peeves (right after old career books, sitting in a meeting that never ends, jammed printers and sales calls when I am at the desk.) 

Wilderness Gear You Can Make Yourself

The above picture cannot do this particular book justice. The cover was falling off and pages were falling out and there is more tape than book. At what point did the library decide enough is enough?

The content looks good, although dated. I have no doubt that this book was well used in its 40 plus years of service. Frankly it is an interesting topic and I know it would do well in my community. That said, assuming reasonable circulation numbers, this book probably traveled through quite a few hands over the last 40 years and only now, in 2016, it is a “problem?” I’d be willing to bet that many people have noticed this book’s obvious wear. I have had patrons make me look at a stray pencil mark in a book and make me swear that I won’t blame them for the damage. Seriously.

Paperbacks are not “forever” books. They have a short life span. At some point, you just have to let them die in a dignified manner. Taping and repairing a book (especially a paperback) should be done with an eye toward cost-benefit. Putting a couple of dollars worth of tape and using staff time on a dying book is not efficient. Even the quickest repair, done by a volunteer, is ultimately going to be more expensive than the cost of the book.

How many humans touched this book in the last 40 years and didn’t notice the yellowing tape and ragged edges? I know this didn’t happen in a single use. Human intervention is an essential part of weeding. As much as I love charts and reports, ultimately eyes on an actual item and walking the stacks is just as important as an ILS report. All staff need to understand the definition of “damaged,” and make sure items that cannot be saved are given a proper goodbye. I have a feeling that staff kept saying its “good enough” and did very least they could do to avoid paperwork, debates over condition, etc.

Be ready and clear with standards in your library so that there is no debate on a books “time of death”. Clear process and procedure as well as empowering all staff to act on damaged materials is essential to a clean and happy library collection. Don’t let those paperback stay on life support forever. It’s not worth it.

Wilderness Gear back cover

But I Might Need It Someday!

6664693057_d59203c5d8_zPhoto (Creative Commons) Courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/drzuco/6664693057

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:

  1. Would the storage space be better utilized in another way? Do you need the space for something else?
  2. 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?
  3. How much time and effort are you putting into making storage items findable and usable compared to the number and frequency of actual uses?
  4. Are your storage items findable? Are they in usable condition?
  5. 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?
  6. 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.

Tis the Season of Angst

Express YourselfI have been employed in some manner off and on since 1974 and I can count on one hand the number of decent holiday work gatherings. People want to have a party. People want to share. All of these are good things. Managers, I can hear you now saying you want to promote some goodwill and team spirit. I get it. I really do. I also know that many people love celebrating the holidays with co-workers.  So as your resident party pooper in charge, let me lay it out there for you.

I call this the season of “forced fun.” Usually there is one crazy Christmas person in every office that wants everyone to “get into the spirit” of the holidays. (Coincidentally, these are usually the same people that are hell bent on cheerfulness before 9 am.)  These party people insist on activities, parties, decorations and gift exchanges. In my working life, I have seen and/or participated in crazy activities ranging from booze filled, career-ending cocktail parties to insane Secret Santa games that extend over weeks and involve a lot of money and effort.

Before everyone accuses me of having a less than generous spirit, let me explain. First, holidays aren’t always good times for people.  For me personally, December has been a nightmare for at least a couple of decades with some kind of disaster ranging from a family member’s death to a hospitalization of a child. I was having trouble just getting to work and staying upright. I did not want to do a stupid Secret Santa exchange or someone to tell me that all I need to do is smile and wear a Santa hat.

I can already hear those people saying: “but our office/library is different.” No, it isn’t. Even if you are extremely close to your co-workers, you cannot possibly know all the things that they are coping with at the time. Tight budgets, time constraints and general family pressures can make participating in such an office party more than difficult. Don’t add to the stress by insisting on full participation in holiday parties and activities, especially if some kind of contribution on the part of the employee is required. I know I am not made of money for endless food and gifts.

If a boss asks me to attend a function, even if it is a party, there is no way I will consider this purely social. It now becomes a work obligation. No matter how nice the invitation, how casual the gathering or how fabulous the relationship is with your employees, there will always be the hint of a boss asking an underling to do something. That means it now becomes work. (My husband is fond of saying that he usually needs to be paid in order to hang out with his office, so a holiday party is not a treat unless there is cash involved.) One passive-aggressive boss I had a long time ago wanted everyone to “want” to come celebrate on a weekend night. It was like pieces of flair only in party form.

As we crawl into the season of holiday angst, I urge bosses and managers to tread carefully. Review policies and make sure no one feels pressured to participate or purposely excluded from any office-wide activity. As I am a long standing victim of holiday forced fun, I urge you to read and then re-read, the Ask a Manager blog. (This link takes you right to a holiday discussion.) There is a host of good advice for everyone to use on holiday gifts and parties. Sharing and celebrating can be done, just do it right.

Mary (designated party pooper)