Statistics 2: Extreme Close-Up

As a follow-up to my post about statistics last week, I thought I would take a closer look at one of my nonfiction sections to demonstrate the kind of information that a report can yield. The Dewey range from 800 through 829 was my first assignment at this library; it covers American and English literature (poetry, essays, speeches, criticism, how-to, humor, drama). It's a grab-bag of exciting treasures, including Chaucer, guides to writing your first screenplay, the collected poems of Maya Angelou, collections of erotica, Dave Barry, Shakespeare, works about (but not by) Jane Austen, and Beowulf. At my library, this part of the collection includes nearly 12,000 items, and they are all under my jurisdiction. I was originally assigned collection development of this section because of my Master's degree in English literature, which at least provided me with some background in the area. Over the years, I've gotten familiar with the collection and what's popular. And, I confess, it is well past time that I did some weeding. As much as I like to talk about weeding, I am not very good at actually getting it accomplished. Consider this my public accounting of things I would like to remedy.

Of the 11,980 items, 67% have circulated at least once since 1999. This, of course, means that about 4,000 items have not circulated at all (according to Millennium). However, most of these books are old enough to have physical evidence of their checkouts in the form of an orange stripe with date stamps on it. I have no idea of the number of books in this section that have never been checked, but I am confident that it is significantly lower than 4,000. We started tracking in-house use of items last year, and I know that almost 100 items in this section show zero circulations but at least one internal use. Obviously, a base of 3,900 items with zero circulations gives me a huge number of items that could potentially be weeded. It's actually quite daunting, but I will whittle it down by using condition, identifying what is by local authors or authors for whom we have a complete catalog, identifying what is a "must-have" according to the Public Library Catalog, getting rid of extra copies of items that are no longer circulating, and so on.

The highest circulating item has gone out 40 times and is also billed, having been checked out in 2007 and never returned. The lucky winner: 3650 Jokes, Puns, and Riddles. I seem to recall trying to replace this specific book in 2008 but ending up having to buy other joke books instead. However, checking again at Baker & Taylor, it was reissued in 2009, so in the cart it goes! The rest of the top ten circulating items:

The Book of Longing, by Leonard Cohen (37)
The War of Art: Winning the Creative Battle, by Warren Pressfield (36)
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris (33)
Magical Thinking, by local author Augusten Burroughs (33)
Don't Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea's Uninhibited Commentaries On Love and Life, by Tyler Perry (30--and recently billed, which means I am reordering it right . . . now)
Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris (30--one of several copies)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Screenwriting (29)
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Shakespeare (29)
Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott (28)

Even though I dislike the concept of the "for Dummies" and "Complete Idiot" series intensely, here is evidence that they do circulate. A check of the catalog shows that we have more than 300 books from each series--good grief! I am pleased to note that we also have a copy of The Complete Idiot's Guide for Dummies. This list of highest circulating items also reflects the hodgepodge nature of this section, with David Sedaris emerging as the clear winner for my patrons.

In my report, I also see about 300 items missing, billed, or otherwise troublemaking in terms of their status. Since this is less than 3% of the collection, I'd say we're doing pretty well, at least compared to the paperback section. Missing and billed (checked out and not returned; a bill is sent to the patron) items are usually a good indicator of popularity and demand, especially if they have correspondingly high circulations. Along with the 3650 joke book and the Madea book, the missing and billed items with the highest circulations include Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck (23), Brown Sugar 2: Great One Night Stands: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction (21), and How to Write a Selling Screenplay (21).


The oldest items in this part of the collection have copyright dates of 1854. (Not a typo.) However, they (three parts of The Poetical Works of Jonathan Swift) have also all circulated in the last year. Another item, Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay (published in 1876), has actually gone out twice since 1999, most recently in January 2011. I sometimes have a tendency to want to get rid of books because they are ancient (and certainly, if they are also in poor condition or not circulating, this is a valid choice), but here is evidence that automatically getting rid of all the old things is not a wise policy. If it's still being used, there's space on the shelf, it's in decent condition, and nothing has supplanted it since publication, there's no reason to weed an item that's more than 150 years old.

This is just a sample of the kind of information I can draw from a simple report. The fields I included were those I outlined in my earlier post, including all the "optional" stats like last in and out dates and Internal Use. Now all I have to do is actually use it to weed some books.

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