About the Library
Librarians review collections for several reasons:
Human knowledge is perpetually expanding and advancing, and given that our financial and physical resources are not perpetually expanding, we routinely have to choose which resources will best serve NMU's needs. We always do our best to identify materials that will have lasting value in the collection, but we know without a doubt that some, especially in rapidly advancing fields, will be outdated sooner rather than later. Many materials, because of their lasting value to scholarly work, will never be considered for weeding. Other materials will be targeted for electronic format.
Librarians use a number of tools and methods to make retention decisions, including:
Q: The North Wind (12/2/2010) said the library was reducing its circulating collection by 50%. Isn't that a lot of our books to withdraw?
We could have been clearer in the interview for that article. We've set a target to reduce the footprint of the circulating collection, which will involve both reducing the number of volumes there and shifting how materials are shelved in order to make better use of the space. That 50% target isn't cast in stone, and as we review the collection, we might very well find that the items we need to retain add up to more than 50%. If and when that happens, we'll simply have to revise the target, since we don't want to eliminate materials still needed and used. We should note also that our present work is focused only on the print book collection; periodicals, music, film, and other kinds of materials are not currently being reviewed as part of this project.
As in most academic libraries, for many years costs and space demands weren't problematic enough to force rigorous collection review. It's always been safest to retain things we weren't certain about letting go. The Road Map to 2015, however, asks the library to re-examine its use of space. It's become clear during this more extensive review that many volumes we've kept over the years could have been withdrawn and the space (with its indirect costs) used for other things. In other words, like many libraries, over the decades we haven't really kept up well with maintaining the collection according to evolving needs. In all fairness to our predecessors here in the library, the information landscape has changed radically and very rapidly recently, which is now forcing us to confront decisions that weren't so critical for previous librarians.
We haven't intended to be secretive, but we recognize how it could look that way. Reviewing and keeping the collection up to date is a regular part of a librarian's work, so to us it didn't seem out of the ordinary. The call for a "library of the future" appears explicitly in the Road Map to 2015, to which the library responded by creating a strategic-directions document. The Academic Senate has an Academic Information Services (AIS) Advisory Committee, which has an open Web page where that document can be seen. In addition, AIS representatives report regularly to the Senate on activities, challenges, and opportunities within AIS. We do realize that everyone on campus is bombarded with information (we know it very well here in the library!) and that communications can get lost in the noise.
Library users can review lists of the titles, which we've posted on Web pages for each subject librarian. These lists comprise our entire catalog of circulating books, so they're extremely lengthy (more than 350,000 items in all). That's why we've broken them down by general subject area.
We wish we could offer that option. The process is continuously ongoing, and there is neither time nor space to set aside multiple book carts for review. In addition, librarians are twelve-month faculty and continue working over the summer and other breaks, meaning that we can't pause reviewing and withdrawing materials until it's feasible for users to review them. And finally, despite its apparent simplicity, the process is quite complex and requires close coordination from a lot of people; we don't have a way of modifying the workflow to accommodate additional review stages. We do offer participation at earlier stages of the collection-maintenance process (see next question).
The best way to take part in shaping the collection is to work regularly with the subject librarians to identify materials useful for current courses and research, and to help with updating and refining the collection on a continuous basis. That process helps keep librarians abreast of your activities, effectively guiding the library toward providing what faculty and students need in support of their work.
The library must observe state and university rules governing disposition of material assets. We have a contract with Better World Books to sell the items they can sell. Part of the sale price comes back to us for use in acquiring updated materials, an amount that's risen to equal a year's book budget for some of our subject areas. Another part of the revenue goes toward literacy programs abroad, so the arrangement benefits both the University and less-fortunate communities. Especially in these times, librarians have a duty to make maximum use of our resources; if we can sell something for the longer-term benefit of the collection and its users, we must do it. And finally, if faculty members who participate in shaping the collection--including identifying materials to be withdrawn--can benefit personally, we've created a conflict of interest.
Holding a book sale requires considerable staff time and effort, which is worth more than the amount of money we "give up" by contracting for sale services. In essence, Better World Books is an outsourced ongoing book sale where individuals can purchase materials, which benefits the library's collection and its support of NMU's teaching and research activities.
More questions? Contact Douglas Black, Collection Development Librarian.
|Librarian Liaisons||Collection Development Policy|