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

Practical Librarian

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

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.


Real Cost of Short Term Thinking

roiAnyone who has worked with me for more than a few minutes has heard my rants on costs and ROI (Return on Investment). Everything I purchase or do for my library has me spinning into mini ROI calculations. Sample obsessive calculations:

-Program cost over number of participants (Watch my blood pressure if I have to attempt to divide by zero!)

-Item cost + Cost of processing + Cost of selection time over number of circulations.

-Number of circs I can squeeze before a board book is completely disgusting.

-Item cost vs how much work it is to order said item (I am defining work in this context to the following: bad website, poor invoicing detail, annoying sales/customer service, etc.)

I think most people will agree with this type of thinking even if they don’t embrace it to the fullest OCD level possible.

However, there is another side to this tale of ROI that we often ignore. The bean counting mentality is essential in running any entity but the danger is when this mentality over steps into the mission of the organization. One of my middle manager cohorts, not in the library business, has seen this first hand. The frightening nature of a business downturn usually drives the accounting people into a frenzy of cutting “waste”. In times of crisis, there is a “let’s pull together and work extra hard” mentality that is usually good for business. It forces us to re-evaluate, prioritize, revisit our mission. All excellent management objectives for any institution, including libraries.

Yet for all this cost cutting my manager friend has noticed a disturbing trend. As business started slowly recovering, there was still a call for “do more with less”. Projects that were not critical were tossed to the back burner, employee training and professional development was still on hold. Staff vacancies were not back filled. Simple requests for minimal resources were met with delays and calls for mountains of paperwork to justify. Staff morale was on the decline and key personnel were considering job changes for greener pastures.Yes, the short term ROI was being met, but long-term damage was on the horizon for this company.  This kind of loss won’t always appear so readily in an balance sheet or revenue statement.

Libraries can take a lesson from the idea of ROI, but like all business entities, looking only at the short run is damaging to a library’s mission and ultimate success as an institution. As in all things in life and libraries, balance is the key. Although I will preach the gospel of ROI to librarians for cost containment, analyzing trends and being objective in your decisions, you cannot forget our larger mission and the art involved in a library’s success.



Originally published at http://www.practicallibrarian.net/long-term-value-and-the-real-cost-of-short-term-thinking/ on 6/5/2012

Image creative commons courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/lendingmemo/11697134804

Advice for Reluctant Weeders

adviceLet’s talk about how to get reluctant weeders more on board with the idea of weeding. Here are some things to consider:

Go by the numbers
Don’t start pulling materials all willy-nilly (even if it is painfully obvious to you what needs to be weeded). How much shelf space do you need? What percentage do you need to remove to create that space? Mary has a perfectly obnoxious formula for linear space  (email submit@awfullibrarybooks.net if you’re dying to see it!). Reluctant weeders may be more willing to trust data than philosophy.

Go easy, go slow
There’s no need to weed the entire collection in one week. Do a bit at a time so  no one has reason to question what’s happening. Ease into it; create a little space, then a little more, then a little more… This gives you time to make better choices, trickle the discarded items through the system, and time to actually get other work done too. Carve out ten minutes a day, an hour a week, or whatever is practical for your situation and deal with what you can in that little bit of time. The collection grew over a matter of decades. It doesn’t need to be dismantled over night. Doing something is better than doing nothing and you will see results. They just don’t have to be shocking results on day one! Reluctant weeders may see the library as a whole and be very overwhelmed. Break the collection into bite-sized pieces that anyone can wrap their head around more easily.

Make an effort to get things circulating first
Make a “last chance” display and see what happens. Put some two-sentence teasers on your library’s Facebook or Twitter page, enticing readers to try titles from the back catalog that have been lingering. This advice does not apply to all material (legal, medical, or otherwise “harmful” old information), but could get some old fiction or biographies moving. Even reluctant weeders will have to agree that you did all you could before moving those materials to the Great Book Sale in the Sky.

Go on a field trip and compare your library to others
Compare what their shelves look like to yours in terms of spacing, cleanliness, and general topic coverage. Find a subject you are personally interested in and see if their collection of those materials are what you would consider useful. What do you wish they had? What do you wish your library had? Be honest! Are you proud of your library after seeing what other libraries have on their shelves?

Your library cooperative or state library may also be able to provide some statistics to help you compare collection size and usage to your neighbors.

Tracking and training
What reference questions do you get regularly? How do you answer them? How else could you answer them? Track the questions you get and use them as real-life examples to do reference training. Don’t forget about databases, e-books, web sites, and inter-library loan options. Also, referral is a reasonable answer to a reference question sometimes. Is there a university or special library nearby that could help with questions you don’t have materials on-hand to answer? Those who say “we might need this some day!” may just need to see that it is possible to provide the same (or better) information in other formats.

Use different terms
I attended a great session at the ALA annual conference (“Whacking the Weeds in the Library: De-Accessioning Print and Digital Materials in the 21st Century and Beyond”) where one of the speakers used the terms “rightsizing” and “planned abandonment.” Those are more business-sounding terms that are more positive than “weeding.” Weeding implies removal of bad stuff just by its very definition – which is what we’re doing – but rightsizing means making appropriate or optimum in size and “planned abandonment” at least sounds like some long-term thinking went into it.  I’m not going to nit-pick wording, but reluctant weeders may like the more positive wording of “rightsizing” or the careful pre-planning of “planned abandonment.” Or, as a librarian friend of ours likes to say, “selecting for the book sale.”

Follow Through
After weeding, chart usage, take pictures, see the difference. Celebrate your success! Prove that the time and effort was worthwhile. Take notice of even small victories so that reluctant weeders will get some positive feedback. If you are able to have a used book sale of the weeded materials, be sure that those who did the work get some input on what the money is used for.

Anything to add? Fire away in the comments!


Image via creative commons: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jakerust/16821469876