Weeding Challenge: Branch Closings

There have recently been some big changes at my city library system. As of this week, seven of our branches will be open almost twice as many hours, and two branches will be closed. One, a one-room branch, is currently being re-purposed by the city as a Senior Center. The other will reopen in 2014, with much of its collection gone, as an "Express Library." This Friday, all hands available will head up to the latter branch to pack away the items that our collection development head determined will stay, making room for the renovation process.

In the case of a branch closing, thousands of library items have to go somewhere! Last year, we closed branches because of budget shortfalls and then reopened them months later. In the hope that funding would eventually be found, their collections were left mostly intact, although we did some weeding before they reopened. The ideal conditions under which to weed an entire library's collection quickly, in my opinion, include a closed building and a group of like-minded librarians focused on the task. Unfortunately, this is rarely possible. For the past several months, I have volunteered to go to the two closing branches and see what materials there could be useful at other locations in our system. Those items were purchased with taxpayer dollars, and we want to make sure we're not losing items that are still needed. At the same time, a branch closing represents a huge opportunity to get rid of items that have been cluttering the collection for years.

I worked as part of a team of weeders, assessing mostly paperbacks, adult graphic novels, and some nonfiction in my subject areas. In the case of the library slated to become a Senior Center, all items were up for grabs--either they were going to be assigned to another branch, or they were going to be donated/sold/recycled. In the case of the future Express Library, about 80% of the collection was slated for weeding and reassignment. In both cases, time was of the essence, and weeding team members had to take time from normal job responsibilities to get the task done.

The Process
In terms of my overall goals for this process, I tried very hard to keep in mind that the other seven branches all have pretty tight paperback collections in the first place--my colleagues there probably wouldn't welcome me sending a flood of materials their way, because they wouldn't necessarily all fit on the shelf. I needed to be pretty picky about what I was going to reassign. I did have the advantage of knowing that I could send whatever I wanted to the Central Library, because the paperbacks there are solely my responsibility and I would only have myself to blame for any overflow, either because I sent too many items or because I haven't been weeding diligently enough.

I started by looking at the books on the shelf and putting all the ones I thought might be likely candidates onto a book truck. At the computer, I could see how often they circulated, what location they last circulated from, whether we had other copies in the system, whether they were part of a series, and so on. But the first step was to assess the items and decide what raw material I wanted to work with.

So, what criteria did I use to evaluate items and determine whether they would be useful--that is, circulate--at another branch?

Condition: If a book wasn't in very good shape, then transferring it to another location served almost no purpose. Since I order paperbacks system-wide, I could just as easily check to see if an obviously high-demand item was unavailable elsewhere and order a new copy for another location. But reassigning a book that would soon need to be weeded anyway? Madness. The line must be drawn somewhere; we can't keep everything.

Popular Authors: I pulled huge swaths of authors like James Patterson, Stephen King, and Nora Roberts off the shelf--even if they weren't in the greatest shape--to check in the system, because they are perennially popular and perennially disappearing. I can always apply some tape to these before throwing them back out there, since they're probably not going to last long anyway.

Series: In many cases, series among our city libraries are branch-specific and not spread between locations, but there are cases where one branch would have books 2, 4, and 5 of a series and I would discover that the closing branch had a copy of book 3. Serendipity! This was the case in all but a few of the manga I reviewed. I also had to decide if some entire series needed to be moved from a closing branch to an open branch. BUT if none of the series had been circulating well at any location, I wouldn't bother, using the principle of not looking a gift weed in the mouth.

Circulation: This was not my primary criterion, because many of the higher-circulating books fell naturally into the poor-condition category. I checked to see how often items had circulated, and especially whether they had circulated from that branch location or some other branch within the city. I looked to see when the item was last checked out (at any library).

What Wasn't There: Here and there as I proceeded, I would realize that I had one book in hand that was part of a larger picture: perhaps one of a series of which the rest were checked out. We were working in branches that were not yet closed, and they were still circulating items. If it was an item I knew I would want elsewhere or thought I should at least review, I put a hold on it. If called to do this again, I would generate a report of all circulating items in advance, instead of attacking it piecemeal.

More Intangible Stuff
It was also important to know what circulates at other locations. One of the closing branches, unfortunately, was one of two locations in city at which paranormal romance was really popular. I knew that these books were in demand locally, but only in specific places. Should I take a risk and move them to a less favorable location? Or should I move them all to the remaining location (my library, as it happens) and see if they circulated there? What if I already had a lot of those items on the shelf? Should I add duplicates? And so on. I do have a list of all the popular and so-not-popular genres at each location, based on circulation statistics, so I have a general idea of what will fit at each branch. But a lot of the work can still feel like a shot in the dark.

Ready to go to new homes.
After I figured out what needed to go where, those items still needed both their holding and circulating library identification changed in the system and their old branch name crossed out before they could be put on the shelf in a new location.

Now that the process is over, I feel good about the items that I relocated, and about the team of librarians I work with to make projects like this happen. It's hard on the neighborhood patrons when a branch closes, but I feel like we're doing the best we can to make sure we don't waste resources.

Any one else had to deal with this situation? I would love to hear about it.


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