Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cost of Deselection (8): Disposition Options

The past seven posts have brought us to the point where a decision to deselect has actually been made. Depending on whether the library has opted for in-stacks review or staged review, the books to be withdrawn or stored are visible in the stacks or identified in the staging area. As some participants might frame it, "the intellectual work has been done." What remains is to follow through on the decision and make the final disposition of the items--and maintain the records.

Even here, however, there are several possibilities. Among the libraries with which SCS has worked, we have heard the following possibilities discussed. Withdrawn books can be:
  • transferred to storage
  • donated to another library
  • sold
  • shredded
  • recycled
Each option carries its own particular requirements. And of course each also carries its own costs. In all cases, though, the best first step, especially when dealing with a batch as large as the 10,000 in our example, is to suppress the bibliographic records from display in the catalog. This creates the opportunity to manage the batch of records and volumes as needed. Suppression can be done as a single batch process once a withdrawal list has been converted to a picklist, with barcode numbers included. The cost, if handled in this manner, is small enough that we won't even count it separately!

However, the cost for other steps can vary considerably, both for record maintenance and for materials handling. In general, costs increase to the degree that the 10,000 unit batch must be broken down into smaller portions to handle. To put it bluntly, it is much less labor-intensive to throw books in a dumpster than it is to pack them 20-25 to a box, or to fill wheeled bins for shredding. It is much less labor-intensive to dispose of an entire batch at once than to sell the portion that may be saleable over time. Let's look at each option individually:

  • Transfer to Storage: For record maintenance, transfers lend themselves nicely to batch work, in which changes to location, circulation status, and a few other data elements can be handled for many items in a single step. However, for shared storage, it is sometimes necessary to replace an individual library barcode with a consortial version, and to apply new ownership stamps. This necessitates handling every item individually.
  • Donating books to another library or charitable organization such as Better World Books or Folio Fund is often seen as preferable to outright discard. The books will have a second chance to circulate elsewhere. Withdrawals can be managed in batch, as can removal of holdings from OCLC. But the books have to be boxed for shipment, which requires packing approximately 500 boxes plus the expense of shipping them to their destination. Not all books are eligible for donation, which in some cases requires searching to determine if titles qualify. 
  • Selling withdrawn titles also has a certain appeal, and if we think too hard about how much money we actually spent to acquire these 10,000 books in the first place, it's tempting to try and recoup some of it. In our experience, this is dangerous ground. In her 2005 study "Library book sales: A cost-benefit analysis", Audrey Fenner determined that all of the prevailing approaches cost more in staff time than the revenue they generated. There are some new tools on the market that could significantly improve prospects here, such as Alibris/Monsoon Commerce Solutions, which help assess the value of batches of titles and offer options to support selling. (These will be addressed in another post later this spring.) But absent new tools, selling should be approached with great caution.

  • Shredding is in most cases unnecessary, but some libraries elect to go in this direction--at least for smaller batches--to avoid the visibility of a dumpster full of bound books. In the examples we have seen, titles to be shredded are put into smaller container that hold 200-250 volumes. While this is less labor-intensive than boxing them up, it constrains batches somewhat and of course the bins have to be transported to the shredder. Record maintenance options are essentially the same as for transfer, sale, or donation.

  • Recycling, especially at scale, minimizes materials handling. Cartloads of books are simply emptied into a large container once the record maintenance has been completed. The transaction costs are low, but such a vessel certainly increases the chance of complaints from faculty, library staff, and visits from the student newspaper. Without proper advance communication, these uninformed responses from the community can end up absorbing more time than has been saved.
At this point, we are finally getting back to the email threads that kicked off my original post about deselection costs. University of Arizona Libraries estimated that post-decision steps for deselection cost them approximately $1.00/volume. UCSD's number was approximately $.25-$.50/volume. Those estimates included record maintenance and reliance on student workers and batch processes. In UCSD's case, the books are apparently sent to Surplus Sales, relieving the library of responsibility for conducting the sale, and (perhaps?) being transported without having to be boxed. In U of A's case, it is not clear what disposition options are invoked. This may be an area where it's harder to generalize about costs, or, as suggested here, different disposition options may be being pursued. But it seems reasonable to assume a minimum cost of $.50/volume for the most straightforward of these processes, and significantly higher for processes involving boxing titles up--for whatever reason. We are nearing the end of this trail. In the next post, I will try to pull together all the strands into a complete model ... and target for twittering calumny.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Cost of Deselection (7): Staged Review

Although the comic possibilities are rich, "staged" review, as used here, does not imply a tableaux arranged for an audience. (Cf. the staged meeting, such as Big Heads, or deselection as spectator sport). Alas, the term is used here in the materials-handling sense, as in "moved to a temporary location."  Before all else, this requires finding a temporary location, itself not the easiest of tasks on most campuses. Locating the necessary "swing space" within the conveniently-located main library is even less likely.

1. Finding Swing Space: To accommodate the 10,000 withdrawal candidates in our example will require substantial space, especially if they are to be handled all at once. The standard library cantilever-style steel shelf unit is 36" wide, and contains either 6 or 7 shelves, depending on whether the top shelf is used.

At full capacity, each shelf holds approximately 30 books. Each bay, then, holds 180-210 books. In order to avoid required hard-hat use, let's stick with 6 shelves and 180 books.
  • 10,000 books will require 56 shelving bays for staging. That equates to 168 linear feet, or 84 feet if units are placed back-to-back in the common shelving configuration. That's more space than most libraries will have available, except possibly in a storage facility.
  • If instead we break the 10,000 books into five more digestible chunks of 2,000 each, the space needs become more manageable: 12 shelving bays, 36 linear feet, or a double-facing row of 18 feet. To give some idea of scale, the shelves pictured to the right will accommodate roughly 1,440 books, if all four bays both back and front are used. 
  • But while smaller sequential batches alleviates the space problem, it also creates five separate review cycles instead of one. Each cycle must be managed, and unless two such spaces can be found, each review cycle must be completed before the next can be started. If the space is in a remote location, it is conceivable that an individual deselector might need to make five separate trips to that facility. This could be known as "breaking their will", but will more likely become "ticking them off."
2. Picking Withdrawal Candidates: "Picking" books is also used in the materials-handling sense--finding the volume and removing it from the shelf--rather than "choosing" it, since that has already been done via our candidate list. Once swing space is available (we'll ignore those costs for the time being), picking (and grinning) can begin. In a recent project conducted in a well-run storage facility with the collection recently inventoried, managers estimated a picking capacity of 500 books/day, using 2 students with light supervision. This includes finding books from a picklist, dealing with missing books and other errors, loading to carts, moving the carts to the swing space, and arranging books in call number order. At 500/day, it would require 20 person-days to move all 10,000 books. Each day's labor would cost $200, at $10/hour for each student, plus some allocation for supervision -- a total of $4,000 to pick the books and stage them for review.

3. Librarian/Faculty Review: This process is very similar to the in-stack review described in the last post, except it is more convenient for the selector--and subsequently for record maintenance and final disposition. The actual review is similar enough to use the same numbers. Selectors can review 250/day. For 10,000 books, that equates to 40 selector-days. Selector days cost $280 each at the median rate of $35/hour. Total for selector review: $11,200. The total cost for staged review:
  • $4,000 for picking
  • $11,200 for deselection decisions
  • $15,200 total
  • $1.52/volume

Additional considerations which apply to both in-stacks and staged review:
  • Review space will need to be equipped with a workstation, wireless access, or mobile capability to facilitate look-up of some titles.
  • Review "windows" will need to be enforced, especially if the process is broken into multiple parts. Vacations and schedule conflicts might force longer review periods. 
  • A default decision should be applied to all unreviewed titles after the specified date.
Selector review--A Rough Comparison:  Remember, the costs here include only selector review. The books are still sitting on a shelf.  We have not yet integrated the previously calculated project management and data comparison costs. We'll save that for the grand total!
  • Review from list: $.56/volume
  • Review in stacks: $1.28/volume
  • Staged review: $1.52/volume
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    Monday, April 11, 2011

    The Cost of Deselection (6): In-Stack Review

    For some reason, deselection decisions seem more difficult than selection decisions. The thought processes are similar, but the consequences are different. But are they really? In selection, the worst-case scenario is not selection of a book that is never used, but rather non-selection of a book that is later wanted but no longer available. The best-case scenario is selecting a book that is ultimately used many times before anyone knows that it is wanted. In deselection, the worst-case scenario is the removal of a book that is subsequently wanted but no longer available--very similar to the worst-case scenario for selection. The best-case scenario is removal of books that will never be used, and retention of those that are subsequently used.

    But there remains a perceived finality to the deselection decision. That perception is in many respects false, as it is perhaps easier to re-obtain content now than at any time in history. Irreversible mistakes are rare. But the stakes seem high, and for now it is rare indeed to meet a selector who will withdraw a book without looking at it. In the previous post, we considered deselection from lists. Here we look at the costs associated with book-in-hand review. There are two approaches, each with slightly different time investments: in-stack review and staged review. Today we consider the first of these:

    In-stack review:

    Some rights reserved by Andrew|W
    In this model, books are reviewed in situ. While it is possible for a selector to use a list arranged in call number order for this process, it is more common that staff or student workers find and mark withdrawal candidates in the stacks, either by applying colored tape or turning the books down. This carries the risk of users disrupting some indicators, but also confines searching and error correction to hourly workers.

    1. Marking the Candidates: Again, let's assume that a student worker, using a list arranged in shelflist order, can find an label 1 title per minute. This may seem slow, but this average has to incorporate looking for items that are missing or misplaced, annotating the list, and moving or marking found items. In eight hours, 480 books could be marked. Let's round up to 500/day.

    To mark our entire list of 10,000 withdrawal candidates, then, would require 20 person-days at 500/day. If we assume an 8-hour day and apply a student wage of $10/hour, the process of finding and marking the withdrawal candidates is about $1,600.

    2. Librarian/Faculty review: Once the candidates are marked, librarians or faculty members can enter the stacks, either with or without a list, to review and decide on withdrawal. While finding them will be easy, the decision-making will almost certainly be slower than the marking process. Deselectors will look at context, at nearby items that cover related topics. They may choose to consult the catalog to see what other books are held by the author. They will need to indicate their decision in some way, and perhaps provide a reason for retention.

    Let's assume these thought processes and actions take twice as long as the marking; i.e., allocate an average of about 2 minutes per title. That equates to 250/day. Our 10,000 titles would require a total of 40 person-days. If we assume an 8-hour day at $35/hour, the cost of in-stack review by deselectors is approximately $11,200. ($280/person-day x 40 days).  

    The total cost for in-stack review:
    • $1,600 for marking
    • $11,200 for deselection decisions
    • $12,800 Total, or
    • $1.28 per title
     Links to related posts:

      Monday, April 4, 2011

      The Cost of Deselection (5): Title Review from Lists

      The previous steps in the deselection process have been directed at identifying candidates for withdrawal. In our hypothetical model, we have focused on titles that:
      • have not circulated since 1998
      • were published in 1999 or earlier
      • show more than 100 US holdings in WorldCat
      • did not appear in either CHOICE or Resources for College Libraries
      These are fairly conservative parameters, but as noted in previous posts, a final deselection decision creates an irrepressible urge to double-check. This is completely understandable, but it is not completely free.

      In some deselection scenarios, these candidate titles might be destined for storage rather than withdrawal. This tends to make the decision less fraught, and there may be less need for review. (It may also create the need to revisit the decision years later, but that's another story.) But let's be strong, and assume that we have a list of 10,000 withdrawal candidates that are actually intended for withdrawal. Most libraries, at least for now, feel the need to review these titles, and call on subject librarians, the Head of Collection Development, or teaching faculty to perform this task.

      Title-level review of candidate lists is quite possibly the single most expensive step of the deselection process. How expensive depends on how the work is designed and executed. The key variables are:
      • Will the review be conducted from lists or from book-in-hand?
      • Will book-in-hand review be performed in the stacks, or will books be separately staged?
      • If duplicate copies are involved, will both copies be inspected to find the one in best condition?
      Today's post addresses the first option, in which qualified deselection candidates are reviewed from a list. An example of such a list is pictured here.

       In this case, the list includes live links to both the library's OPAC and WorldCat, along with location, call number, and other details. Remember that these titles have not circulated for more than 12 years, and that more than 100 other US libraries hold them. Also remember that every hour spent reviewing such a list by a librarian costs $35/hour. Teaching faculty hours are presumably even more expensive, but do have the virtue of not drawing from the library's budget!

      Let's project a review rate of 1 minute per title. This average allows time to scan titles and groupings, plan an investigation strategy, and to review some portion of the candidates in context, by drilling into the OPAC and WorldCat. The process is in some respects similar to review of approval plan materials, but in reverse. To review 10,000 titles at 1/minute requires 10,000 minutes, or 166 hours. 166 hours @ $35/hour = $5,810. For one person, this would represent just over 4 weeks' work. To look at it another way, this list-based process costs just over $.58/title.

      In practice, the 1/minute rate may be optimistic, and the proportional costs actually somewhat higher. And of course there is the question of opportunity cost as well: what else could those 4 weeks have been used for? Still, list-based review, particularly when the candidate list is based on criteria agreed in advance, clearly costs less than physical review. We'll consider those costs in the next post.

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