Monday, June 04, 2007

Why are the Shelves Empty?

For about a year now, librarians have been carefully weeding the non-fiction collection of the Waterloo Public Library. An analysis of the the collection's circulation shows that the turnover rate for last year was quite low and has been trending lower for several years. One of the reasons for the is decline is the accumulation of materials that, while of interest when purchased, are no longer desired by our patrons.

With the shelves filled with outdated books, patrons have difficulty finding the newer items that they desire. The library is taking several steps to address this issue. First, we're aggressively weeding the collection for the first time in several years. Librarians use a feature of our LMS (Library Management System) to generate lists of items that have not been checked out for several years.

With the list in hand, they then work their way through the stacks looking for those unused items. Sometimes the items are lost or stolen. Usually, however, the item is on the shelf waiting for attention. The librarian looks at the item and decides whether to keep or "weed," the book.

If the item is "MUST"y (i.e., Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, or Trivial), out it goes. Sometimes, an ugly or superseded item may be replaced, but usually the book's time has past and it must be discarded to make room for newer items. A good example of obsolete books includes our collection of books on the Savings & Loan collapse. The S&L failures happened in the 1980s with the solution coming in the early 1990s. Patrons no longer wish to read to read out a settled issue. There's no good reason to devote shelf space to discussions of the S&Ls: they no longer exist!

When we get caught up with our weeding, we plan to shift much of the non-fiction collection towards the north east corner of the second floor. The room created by the shift will be used for a teen area and a biography browser. We also expect to have room for the AV collection (e.g., movies, music, audio-books) which is currently housed on the first floor.

Thus far, we're still trying to visualize the final result. However, one thing we know for sure: books which haven't been used for years gradually deteriorate and detract from the quality of the collection. We'll continue to weed vigorously as we make plans for a more current, vibrant collection that our patrons will want to use.

If you have questions or comments about what we're up to, leave a comment on the blog or contact me at If you find that a favorite book is no longer on the shelf, ask us to acquire it by inter-library loan, or maybe we'll even buy a replacement copy!

c 2007 Waterloo Public Library

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