Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Weeding Window, Deaccession Drama

In an earlier post, I suggested that perhaps writing about my intention to weed some parts of the library's collection would force me into action, and I am pleased to report that it has finally done so! The good news is that I was able to weed some items that were no longer being used by my library's service population, making room for new books that I've been ordering in the normal course of collection development. The bad news is that it took me more than two hours to find fewer than 50 books that I thought might be weedable and remove some of them from the collection. Considering that I only got through a few shelves (of the hundreds that await my careful attention in the 800-830 range), this is somewhat depressing.

My goal was to evaluate and discard a manageable chunk of books. The steps were as follows:

1. Using my most recent export of statistics for the 12,000 books in that part of the collection, I created a subset of books with zero circulations in the past 10+ years. I sorted it by call number and printed out the 17 pages of my Excel spreadsheet that represented adult nonfiction items located in 800 through 810 on the shelves. What I ended up using was about 1 1/2 pages of this presumably useful printout.

2. I stole a book truck from the workroom upstairs by shifting the contents off it and onto another partially occupied truck. I reasoned that the need to return it quickly would be extra motivation for me to finish the weeding process through to its natural conclusion (either with books in the discard pile or back for reshelving). Then I attempted to casually drive it away, but it refused to cooperate by driving in a straight line.

3. My contraband truck and I arrived in the 800s without incident, and I began at the beginning. These include books on literature and rhetoric, literary criticism, and a few dictionaries and encyclopedias. After a short attempt at consulting my list and pulling only those zero-circ books off the shelf, I ended up touching all of them because it was clear that only a small percentage of the books weren't on my list. This ended up being a little more time-consuming, because I did some shifting (in this case meaning moving books from shelf to shelf and not shifting nervously while waiting for my co-worker to notice their book truck was missing) while I was selecting books for potential weeding.

4. Some books on my list did not end up on the cart for potential weeding. Here's an example: I came across a book called For Lancelot Andrewes; Essays on Style and Order, by T.S. Eliot. It's not clear when this book last circulated. However, the rest of the books around it--also Eliot books--have all gone out more recently, or they'd be on my list. We are not so pressed for space that I need to chip away at a set like that.

5. Some books that were not on my list did end up on my cart. For example, The Book Lover's Guide to the Internet (1998), even though it's revised and updated and has been checked out in the last ten years, is chock full of links from 13 years ago. As an experiment, I tried to access some of the links, and only four of nine still worked. I will keep my eye out for something up to date on this subject.

6. I got through the 804s and to the bottom of a range of shelving, which seemed like a natural stopping point. I had pulled 44 books for potential weeding, found one jammed behind this part of the collection that I wanted to check for a missing status (it was), and two books I wanted to get repaired. I headed toward a computer that I could use to look at statistics and actually delete books from the collection.

7. I scanned each book and discovered what other libraries, if any, had copies in the system. For the most part, since I had largely been working with literary criticism, academic libraries were the only other libraries with holdings. At one point in time, Springfield had a collection that could rival some academic libraries for depth, but the patrons we serve have shifted toward high school/community college students and curious adults, which is probably why most of these items haven't circulated. As much as I might be familiar with names like Derrida and Cleanth Brooks, those books won't really help our patrons pass the GED or improve their writing skills. I checked to see what other books we had on those subjects, and whether we had any updated editions. I sometimes googled an author to see how prominent he or she was. I checked the Public Library Catalog to make sure I wouldn't be tossing anything vital. And then I deleted a bunch of books.

(While I was doing all of this, I was also listening to podcasts. There's nothing like multitasking!)

Thirty-five books ended up on the outside, looking in. These included several with "modern" in the title (published in the 60s and 70s), as well as some surveys of literary criticism from the same era; some titles from well-known critics of a bygone era that are still held at local academic libraries; some books in poor condition; a book with tiny insects crawling through its pages (still absently scratching as a result); and a few older reference books for which there are newer copies available in this library.

Some titles that I had picked up on the fly surprised me as being mildly popular, and I was happy to send them back to the shelf to live another day. Others, like Deconstruction & Criticism, I was unable to part with for sentimental reasons, and also because our holdings on that subject are fairly limited. The process of weeding isn't that complicated, but it does take time and attention to detail, as well as a general knowledge of the collection and the direction it needs to grow.

At the conclusion of my off-desk time, I ended up with a little bit of shelf space, dirty hands, and the desire to do more weeding! I also returned my co-worker's book truck to its original position with, I believe, no one the wiser. Let's keep it between us.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Inca Gold

The Library Journal/School Library Journal virtual show Ebooks: the New Normal is this Wednesday. I hope lots of people plan to attend so we can continue the discussion and learn new things from each other. For once, I got my slides done early, but I still haven't quite figured out what I'm going to say about those slides...time is running out.

I'm sure, at some point during the day, that HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan will come up. I didn't mention them in my presentation, so here are my (ever-evolving) thoughts...

If the point of a for-profit company is to make a profit, holding your goods out of the marketplace is a dubious strategy. However, ultimately, that is their decision. I think libraries should stop wasting time begging companies to give them the opportunity to buy their products. Yes, it would be nice to be able to buy digital books from these companies, but my job is ultimately to fill the shelves, physical and virtual. That means spending less time trying to get people into the market, and more time purchasing from the people who already value our business. There are so many things available on Overdrive, I could spend five times my budget if I had the time (and five times my budget...). When people ask for books that aren't available to us, I always tell them they have the option of buying it themselves. Most people laugh. If it was a book they wanted to purchase, they wouldn't have started with the library. It takes a lot more effort to send in a request for purchase than it does to use your digital device to purchase a book for yourself.

Recorded Books decided, long ago, that they were not going to play ball with Overdrive. A lot of the most popular downloadable audiobooks (unabridged versions of the early Stephanie Plum books, and Gabaldon's Outlander series, for example) are exclusive to Recorded Books. Unless you subscribe to their downloadable service, these items are not available. These are items that would be used, certainly, but is it worth the price of having (and paying for) a completely separate platform? Money is decreasing, not increasing, for libraries. If it is a choice between one platform with many publishers, and a platform of one publisher, surely the most bang for my buck wins. So we don't offer these things--and the circulation of our downloadable audiobooks don't seem to be suffering. Much the same is happening with our ebook collection. Circulation goes up month after month, in spite of the fact that two of the biggest publishers don't have items in our catalog. In the last 7 days, we added 2,728 titles to our Overdrive collection. Or, if you prefer, in the last 7 days, we purchased 2,728 titles from someone other than Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Recorded Books for our digital collection. Would they have gotten some of that money were they available? Yes. Did someone else benefit because of their absence? Yes.

And yes, I know HC is technically "available" to us. But, so far, we have chosen not to play the 26 circ lottery with our ebooks. 

On the other hand, I certainly respect the fact that you're not trying to pass off your product as Inca gold to get it into the library marketplace. Just because a company makes something "available" to purchase doesn't mean it makes sense. Take the title America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation. Here is the Amazon screenshot (click to enlarge):

If you're trying to diminish your physical bookshelves, however, you may want to order a digital copy. The Kindle price is listed, but maybe you want to buy it from somewhere else. I have a Sony reader, so I always check the Sony store price. Here is the screenshot:

The Kindle price and the Sony price are the same. But maybe you're doing a research paper, not a dissertation, and you don't need to own the book. You just need to browse it, see if it will be of any use to you. Oh, and your paper is due in about...3 hours...and it is 5 AM...but the library has ebooks, right? Here is the "library" price for that book:

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Yes, that really does say $105. For a book that, for a print hardcover, only has a max retail value of $35.

THIS is the kind of thing libraries, librarians, and people who pay taxes to support libraries should be up in arms about. You think an $18 muffin is bad? This book markup makes that look reasonable. As you can see, the publisher in question seems to think the world of many of their items. Libraries, and librarians, have a lot of work to do and ground to make up in this ebook discussion. I look forward to seeing all of you on Wednesday.