Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Cost of Deselection (2): Fixed Costs

Any comprehensive costing model for deselection must consider the process from inception to completion. Some components will be fixed costs (largely independent of the volume of titles under review), and others will be variable, increasing or decreasing in proportion to the number of volumes actually handled. Fixed costs may be one-time (if deselection is conceived as a project), or recurring (if deselection is conceived as an ongoing activity).

For the sake of clarity, let's start with the example of a one-time project to remove 20,000 volumes. Today's post will consider some examples of fixed costs:
  • Project design and management
  • Data assessment and extract
  • Development of criteria for candidate lists
  • Communication with stakeholders
Project design and management:  Every deselection project starts somewhere. Sometimes Stacks Management can no longer shelve new titles in a particular range. Sometimes a selector recognizes how old and little-used a segment of titles are. Sometimes an administrator wants to repurpose space. The genesis and scale of the project will determine its objectives, and will suggest who needs to be involved.

For a project involving 20,000 volumes--a figure equivalent to that annual intake of many libraries--a formal plan will be needed. Meetings will be required among affected selectors, stacks management staff, technical services staff, supervisors of student or temporary workers, etc.. A communication strategy will need to be developed. Liaison with Facilities may be necessary for removal of deselected volumes. Decisions will need to be made regarding criteria for deselection, record maintenance, timing, and disposition options.

If a group of six people met for two hours once a week for a month to plan the project (a very conservative estimate, in my experience), 48 hours of librarian and staff time would be absorbed in planning. It seems reasonable that the group would continue to meet regularly throughout the course of the project, so we might add another 48 hours for one meeting a month over the next six months. 
Estimated time for project design & management: 100 hours

Data Assessment and Extract: Every library system stores circulation data differently. Individual libraries may count and group circulation statistics differently. Some libraries count in-house use (some as charges in the system, some entirely separately). The extent of circulation data retained by individual libraries typically dates back to the most recent ILS migration. Obviously, analysis can only be done within the constraints of available data.

The accuracy of available data depends on how regularly inventories and shelf-reading have been done. In some cases, holdings data has not been kept current in WorldCat. Each library must decide its tolerance for dealing with less-than-ideal data. In some cases, remediation work may be necessary, but more often that remediation will occur as a welcome side-effect of the deselection process. Item-level data and acquisitions data may be important. For example, "date acquired" is an essential modifier of circulation data--we don't want to deselect titles that have only recently been added. Item records typically contain location, barcode numbers and other elements such as donor information. It is useful to understand what match points may be available for comparison to external data sources (e.g., OCLC number). The perspectives of a Systems Librarian and Technical Services are both important here, to ascertain what data resides where.

Once the project team understands the characteristics of the bib, item, and acq data available for analysis, it needs to be pulled from the ILS in the form of reports or extracts. Again, every ILS provides different approaches to this, ranging from template-based collection management reports to customized SQL queries directly against the library's database tables. Some approaches require more time and expertise than others, particularly if subject or location specificity is wanted, and on how fully the bib and item data are integrated. The extracted file of no/low-use items then needs to be formatted for review and for comparison to external data sources. 
Estimated time for data assessment and extract: 20 hours (assumes no problems)

Development of criteria for candidate lists: In a benign dictatorship, this step would require no time at all. But that's not how most libraries operate. First, what date range applies to circulation; e.g., are we looking at titles that have not circulated in the past ten years? the past five years? Are we considering titles that circulated once during that period? What publication dates will we consider? Do we need to factor in the date added to the collection as well as imprint date? Are some subject areas off-limits?

If a non-circulating title appears in Resources for College Libraries or is a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, does that change our opinion? What number of WorldCat holdings should we use for a first pass--100 in the US? 50 in the US? 10 in our state? Which consortial partners or peer libraries ought to be considered? Are we interested in whether a title appears in Hathi Trust?

For those few libraries that have active deselection programs, many of these questions may already have been worked out. But most libraries will need to spend some time thinking through the collection and access issues here before taking action on a substantial number of titles. Meetings, draft policies, more meetings, and revisions will be necessary. 
Estimated time for development of deselection criteria:  100 hours

Communication with Stakeholders: Few library initiatives attract more attention than removing books from the shelves. To avoid misunderstandings and negative consequences, it is critical that the library deliberately shape its message about drawing down the print collection, and make certain that message is widely communicated and understood. This takes time and patience, and especially during early projects will add to the costs associated with deselection. Articles and blogs need to be written laying out the rationale, and highlighting safeguards. Presentations must be developed and delivered to the faculty at large, to individual departments, and even to students. It may be necessary to make the case to colleagues within the library as well. While the deselection message can be incorporated into liaison programs and other routine channels of communication, in most libraries a more focused effort will be needed. 
Estimated time for communication with stakeholders:  100 hours

The total for these four areas is 320 hours of librarian and administrator time. This is deliberately an extremely conservative estimate -- and comments are most welcome on this point -- but its primary purpose is illustrative. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011, the median 2008 salary for librarians in colleges, universities, and professional schools is $55,180. Assuming a 40-hour weeks, this equates to $26.52 per hour. If we add the BLS figure of 30% for benefits, the median hourly rate for a librarian is $34.48. The activities outlined above impose an estimated cost of $11,034. (320 hours x $34.48=$11,034). Even this modest total equates to $.55/volume for the 20,000 volumes in our example.

At this point, the library does have a project plan, a handle on the data, a communication strategy, and an early message out to the community. But this is only the beginning. The books are still on the shelves. Comparisons with external data sources have not begun. No deselection decisions have been made. No bib or item records have been touched. Other costs will follow, and I'll continue tracing those in the next post.

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