Hoarding is not collection development
Follow us on:
Making a Collection Count

Practical Librarian

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

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

flairI 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)

Discard Responsibly

We are asked all the time what to do with weeded materials. As we all know, throwing them in the dumpster has the potential to become a huge PR nightmare. Not to mention, it’s disrespectful. People paid for those books! People love(d) those books! Books are sacred!

Yes, I’m exaggerating to make a point. The fact is, Joe Citizen does not know – nor does he care – what the library’s policy on deselection is. He doesn’t care about your MLIS degree, and he doesn’t care about your lack of space. He does care about books. Sure, Joe Citizen hasn’t stepped foot in a library in decades, but he still believes in the system. He believes that books are forever, and the library equals books. If Joe Citizen finds piles of books in a dumpster,  he doesn’t care about their publication dates or their coffee-stained interiors. Joe Citizen is angry because the library is irresponsible. Joe Citizen calls the local media. Joe Citizen is now your worst nightmare.

He’s kind of right. The library is irresponsible if it is dumping a noticeable amount of books in a dumpster. A few moldy-oldies with undeniable and unfixable damage is ok (say, ten or fewer per week). Hundreds or even thousands at a time, though? No. Just…no.

If your library is doing a big weed, you need to plan ahead. Create a weeding plan. It uses your fancy collection management policy to set a timeline for responsible discarding of public assets. It includes things like:

  1. A review of your fancy collection management policy to make sure you really are keeping and removing the right stuff.
  2. Training materials for the staff, to make sure you’re all on the same page philosophically. How does the library’s collection help meet its mission?
  3. How much will be removed from the collection over what period of time?
  4. A detailed workflow of how the materials will get from the shelf where they currently reside to its final destination (suggestions below!). And I mean detailed. Who will handle the materials, how many times, where, etc.
  5. Press releases to let the public know that there will be a big used book sale, that the library is making space for interesting and important new materials, and that if they would like to be part of the process they are welcome to help.
  6. Training materials for the public who want to help. Choose their participation carefully, and make sure they understand the process, the philosophy, and the overall reason. Share the weeding plan with them. They can cart things up, move them from place to place, remove labels, cross out barcodes, deliver items to recycle centers, work the book sale…all genuinely helpful activities, but nothing that takes decision-making control away from highly trained staff.

BTW, this is complete overkill for ongoing, regular collection maintenance, which is where we hope you all are headed with your collections. This kind of plan is meant for Big Weeds for projects like re-configured spaces, new buildings, RFID-tagging, and the like. We hope you get your collections under control so that you can do regular, ongoing maintenance weeding that only involves a few books a week to stay on top of it. No one bats an eye at that level of activity (though they still needs to be disposed of responsibly!)

In addition to used book sales to put these public assets back  in the hands of the public, here are a few more options for responsible disposal.

  1. Better World Books – they sell your castoffs, you get a commission. Medium effort required to box up your stuff and set up the pick-up.
  2. Amazon.com – you sell your castoffs, you make money. High effort required to create the listings and keep track of them.
  3. Recycle – often paperbacks only. Low effort if you have recycling pick-up at your library. Medium effort if you have to box it up and take it to a recycle center.
  4. Pulp – Hardcover books can be pulped if that is a service offered in  your area. You may want to research the pollution factor of the pulping process before committing.
  5. Hold a crafts program – Pinterest, anyone?

A submitter sent the pictures below with this note:

These were discarded paperbacks I took out of the Friends of the Library book sale pile. We have a new sign in the work room that says “Before you place items here for the book sale, think ‘would I give this to a friend?'” So many had loose pages!

three paperbacks

rip out pages

roll pages into a wreath

Those are awesome! I love the submitter’s sign that reminds staff that there are better options for some weeded materials than the book sale. Loose pages are the perfect copies to use for craft projects!

So, go forth and do your Big Weed, but create a weeding plan first. Take it seriously and ask yourself how it looks to the public, who aren’t privy to the years and years of experience and education we have in library science.