Friday, March 4, 2011

The Cost of Deselection (1)

Recently there has been a lot of interest in the question of how much it costs to remove a book from the library. Judging from the listserv traffic, no one yet has a complete answer. A couple of relevant comments from librarians who have captured a portion of the cost:

From Steve Bosch at the University of Arizona:
We have measured the amount of time required to withdraw materials. Since we have removed over 350,000 vols the number seems to hold up for our planning purposes. This is an average for all types of withdraws from serials with multiple items to books. Over the years the avg has been about 6 min per title. This includes pulling the item from the stacks – updating local records, updating OCLC holdings, and the physical processing of the de-accessioned item.  
From Martha Hruska at UC/San Diego:
When we can do large batch processing of withdrawals, our Facilities manager estimates that the pulling, stamping, boxing, staging, and transporting to Surplus Sales costs approx. 25 cents per volume.  When we need to pull up records one by one using student help, the price doubles to 50 cents per volume (on average).
These are both useful indicators, but of course represent only a portion of the overall cost of deselection. They also measure things differently:
  •  U of A: 6 minutes per title (or 10 titles per hour)- does not appear to include transport.
  • UCSD:  25-50 cents per volume (including transport).
These estimates are actually quite far apart. If we assume $10/hour for labor, U of A's cost per volume would be $1.00. If we assume the same hourly rate for UCSD (with students pulling up records one by one), they could process 20 titles/hour--more than double U of A's rate--for the same cost. Under the UCSD batch process, they process 40 titles/hour. And the UCSD process appears to include more steps. There is clearly much more to learn here.

These back-of-the-envelope calculations point to a clear need for a comprehensive cost model for deselection, which would need to include the intellectual work (data gathering and deselection decision-making), as well as normalizing the physical handling and record maintenance tasks captured in the examples above:
  • Identification of no/low-circulation titles
  • Determining/negotiating parameters for deselection  (imprint date ranges, title protection rules)
  • Identification of holdings by consortial partners or WorldCat
  • Staging titles for physical review, condition comparison
  • Selector time/Faculty time spent in review of lists and physical items
  • Error correction--books that don't match records, etc.
It is only after these steps are performed that the cost models described above come into play, and even here there is more than one variable in each step:
  • Physical Handling
    • Pulling from shelves or staging area
    • Library stacks vs various storage facilities
  • Record Maintenance
    •  Local bib and item record updates
    •  OCLC holdings updates
    • Insertion of  URL to digital version
  • Disposition Options
    • Packing and staging
    • Shipping 
    • Recycling
    • Selling/Donating
Not every library will incorporate all of these steps, and of course that is the point. Library practice varies widely here, and so do costs.Some libraries have good batch update capabilities; others less so. Disposition options range from boxing for sale or transport, to dropping items into a recycling bin. Handling costs depend on which option the library chooses. Some libraries support staging and physical review; others work from lists. Pulling from stacks or open storage shelves is much less labor-intensive than pulling from bins in a high-density storage facility.

In short, deselection policies, workflow designs, and systems capabilities dramatically influence transaction costs for deselection. In subsequent posts, I will outline a conceptual model for estimating deselection costs that can accommodate these variables. [Update: Links to other posts follows:]


  1. indeed the UCSD costs only include the post-decision steps. we are presently discussing our deselection policies in the context of 'easily' obtainable circ stats, availability in our partner-libraries, and realistic timelines to shift collections. will be most interested to see and possibly contribute to your conceptual models.

  2. I missed this when you posted it, Martha - apologies. Thanks for confirming the point about post-decision steps. I'm thinking that policy setting, data gathering, and decision making -- especially if physical review is supported -- will comprise a much larger portion of cost than post-decision processes, but we'll see.