Over the summer we did a total library book “shift” at the library for the Lander College for Men.
You might ask: “Why would you do that?”
Or “Wasn’t that a lot of physical work?” (Yes, it was.)
Or “How many books did you move?” (Over 15,000 books.)
So here is the story of why…
When we did inventory last summer, I made a few discoveries.
The process of inventory involves taking each book off the shelf and scanning the barcode. You get to spend a moment with each book. This allowed me to notice the condition of the books. I was also able to do an overview of all the books in an area. It became obvious that some of the shelves were light and some were overcrowded.
During the inventory, I was able to improve our collection. If a book was damaged, I purchased a replacement. If we didn’t have a whole set of books, I purchased the other volumes. If we had several copies of a book printed at different times, we weeded down to the most recent copy. If we couldn’t read the spine label, we relabeled the book.
Librarians have a duty to carry out “collection development”. The collection is all the books in the library. Developing the collection is where we evaluate what we have and decide to either add to a subject or “weed out” unneeded information. This is when we make a decision for example to bring in more computers, say, or accounting books. Since we are in a time where change is constant, keeping everything up to date is a big task.
Librarians are always on the lookout for new important or informative books. Sure I could read book reviews but that is not always enough. For me, I find that asking people what they are reading can often be the best source. I actively solicit book recommendations from staff and students. Sometimes, when I’m on the Cross Island Ferry or the LIRR and notice someone with a book, I will also inquire as to what they are reading.
How do you fit all the books in the library? Even if we had unlimited space for a library collection, not all books would be kept forever. Weeding out and discarding books happens when we decide a book is no longer appropriate for our location. This could be due to damage, outdated information or a subject matter that is not used at this location. Librarians generally like to keep everything, but sometimes the old needs to make way for the current, whether that means replacing, re-purposing, or sometimes discarding volumes.
Libraries have to change with the times and yet keep a little of the past. We still have some print newspapers and journals come in, but we have so many more in the databases. Many reference books that provided information on an annual base are now in databases that are updated daily. A good example is the Oxford English Dictionary or OED, which has been a staple many libraries because it gives the etymology of individual words. This used to be an enormous dictionary, often on its own shelf. Now, the OED in database format is much more accessible, updated frequently, and no longer limited to a specific physical size.
I noticed during inventory that the library’s collection was disproportionately located in the back of the library compared to the shelves near the entrance. So beginning at the front of the library, we began to shift the books, spacing them more evenly. The project went on during most of the summer, but now it’s done! This newly achieved balance throughout the library has improved the look of the shelves, but it has also made the books much easier to access and use.
Contributed by: Joan Wagner, Librarian, Lander College for Men