That Book Doesn't Live Here Anymore: Weeding Fiction Paperbacks

A while ago, I started a project to relieve some of the pressure on the mass market paperback shelves by identifying potential candidates for weeding. I found some surprising results, primarily having to do with what books were actually on the shelves. Here is a description of my work with the Fiction paperbacks--those items not classified Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Urban Fiction, Mystery, Horror, Nonfiction, or Western. This catch-all section includes thrillers, literary fiction, classics, Men's Adventure, "chick lit," books featuring African-American characters that aren't cataloged in either the Romance or Urban Fiction sections, and so on. Some of the big names are Dan Brown, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Fern Michaels, James Patterson, Nora Roberts, and Danielle Steel. Almost all of the Tall Premium editions that we own can be found there, making my life difficult.

I ran a report on the entire paperback collection to generate the statistics I would need (see this post for details on different fields I like to use). Then I subdivided the information by genre so I would end up with manageable chunks. As of early December, when I ran the report, the total number of adult paperbacks in our collection at the main library was approximately 5750 items. Of these, about 850 (15%) were marked as missing, billed, "claims returned," in repair, and other statuses that indicate books are not on the shelf where they're supposed to be. There were 1500 Fiction paperbacks (about a quarter of the total collection), of which 13% were problem children. These items circulated over 7500 times in the past ten years, about 5 times per item--as opposed to the more popular Romance paperbacks, which circulate an average of 8.5 times per item.

I created a list of Fiction paperbacks that:
  • Were added to the collection before 2007
  • Had not circulated in the last 2 years
  • Had fewer than 4 total circulations

Having some experience with weeding this part of the collection, I also included the "missing" and "claims returned" items in my pull list in the hope that I might actually find them on the shelf. I ended up with a list of 255 items that could potentially be weeded from the collection. This number was not overwhelming, yet might create some space on the shelves, even if I didn't end up deleting all the items I pulled off the shelves. I sorted the list by author last name and set out checking every book on the shelf against my list. As I worked, I also put aside books for repair and books with incorrect spine labels and books in the incorrect genre, using this as an opportunity to tidy up as many aspects as possible of this part of the collection. 

I soon found that my biggest problem was actually going to be finding physical books to weed. Many of the books with low circulation that I had targeted said "Check Shelves" but were nowhere to be found. This was frustrating, because I could delete them and still not make any space on the shelves for new books, which is a major goal of weeding. I did end up finding 22 books marked "missing" and left them on the shelves, figuring that the fact that they had been marked meant that there had been some demand for them. If they turn up again on my list during my next round of weeding, I will be merciless.

When I had a group of books with high weeding potential, I considered:
  • Whether it was part of an ongoing series
  • Whether one of our branches had another paperback copy
  • Whether we had a hardback copy here at the central library
  • Whether I had a second copy on the shelf
  • The condition of the book
  • Whether I should reclassify the book's genre to see if it would circulate elsewhere
  • Whether it looked like one of the most eyeroll-inducing books ever to be published

If there were other copies in house or in the system, it was fairly easy to make the decision to delete the copies I had in hand. If the book was in poor condition, that was another easy call, although most of them had not circulated enough to make this a factor. Most of the books that I pulled were generic thrillers, action/adventure books with titles like Scorpion Strike, and historical fiction. I was pleased to weed titles by Gene Hackman, Thomas Kinkade, and Oliver North from the collection. I was less pleased to find that seven books by Stephen King, eight books by Dean Koontz, and five books by James Patterson were missing, really missing. I would rather spend my collection budget buying new books than replacing books that people have disappeared from the shelves. 

I ended up deleting 195 books from this part of the collection over the course of a week, only 89 of which were actually on the shelf. I reclassified about a dozen books and repaired a few more. I figured out that I might need better signage for this part of the collection. I cursed the Tall Premium editions. I put the weeded books on the free shelf for the public to snatch up if they dared. And now I'm turning my attention to the Mystery section!

ETA: I did not find any books that were "claims returned," making me shed a small tear for humanity.

ETA: I am also keeping a spreadsheet of the things I delete, what their total circulation was, and whether we have another copy in the system. Because I can. On it I am tracking, for books that were missing, whether they should be replaced--especially if they had high circulations and there are no copies left in the system. 

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