Monday, August 29, 2011

Fixin' to Weed


As a lifelong Northerner, there are certain words I don't get to use. Y'all, for instance, will never sound right coming out of my mouth. Southern friends have warned me that I could be fined or jailed for saying it. (Well, OK, not in so many words, but you can tell.) Another example is fixin', as in I'm fixin' to have me some catfish. Fixin' is a fine word, full of resolve and focus. I figure it's safe to use as long as I don't actually speak it aloud. It's about getting ready, getting mentally prepared, even looking forward to something. As in 'I'm fixin' to weed the business section.'

Well, September's right around the corner, and with the start of the new academic year, we expect some librarians are fixin' to do some weeding this year--at least once all of those instruction sessions are over. We at SCS would like to suggest that fixin' to weed actually is an important first step, and that it's pretty straightforward. In less than a single day, it's possible to gauge the potential of a deselection project, by taking these 5 steps:

Look at your circulation data:  Ask for a report that shows how many books have not circulated in the past 10 years. Screen out reference and special collections titles from consideration. Other bits of data can help, e.g., date of last circulation, date acquired, but are not essential at this stage. Most libraries find that 40%-50% of their collection has not circulated in a decade. This report defines your library's sweet spot, the potential yield of a deselection project.

Look at your space: How crowded are the stacks? How busy are the stacks? How crowded are study spaces? What might you do with an additional 10,000 square feet? A writing center? An expanded information commons? Some big flatscreen monitors or whiteboards for collaboration? A coffee shop?

Look at alternatives for maintaining low-use content: How many copies of the same books are also in the collections of peers or borrowing partners? Can the library join a shared print retention initiative? How many holdings are shown in WorldCat? In what other forms might the same content be available; i.e., how readily replaceable or re-accessible is it?  

    Look at an SCS Sample Report: See how aggregated deselection metadata can expedite decision-making. Collection summary reports help identify the most fruitful areas, and enable experimentation with deselection criteria. Withdrawal candidate lists highlight titles that meet those criteria. A library an also assemble this circulation and deselection metadata on its own.

       Look at the cost of doing nothing: While the biggest costs associated with inaction are opportunity costs (what else the library could do with the space occupied by unused material), there are also direct costs. These have been calculated by Courant and Nielsen at $4.26 per volume per year for titles in open stacks, and $.86/volume/year in high-density storage. Maintaining the status quo may be a desirable option, but it is not free.
       
       If the results in your library at all resemble what we've seen to date, you'll quickly move from fixin' to weed to chafin' to weed. Straightforward consideration of these five points won't take long, and will give you clear insight into the potential benefits of deselection in your own library. In effect, the data will help you make the case for deselection to yourself and your colleagues, and will echo David Maister's comment in his excellent Strategy and the Fat Smoker: "The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not insight but resolve."

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