I’m at about the half-way mark of sifting through my library’s physical collection. Let me tell you, not only having the dry, paper cut riddled, filthy hands to show for it, I also have a new understanding of how much of our collection has been used (or not). I know this sort of approach is not feasible for most libraries. I wouldn’t be doing this if we had circulation data or if we could easily designate call number ranges to be sent to “the Annex”.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that collection development seems to be done with good intentions, but lacked follow through to see if that was what was really needed. Some sections, such as traffic studies from various cities around the US (mostly from the 1960s and 1970s) were never touched, yet we had thousands of them. Our section on mathematical models, statistical analysis, and probability is much smaller, but almost every item has been borrowed several times. Elevator World is another great example. We had a run that took up an entire bay and a bit. It was used maybe once in my 8 years here? It was nice to have, but nobody actually wanted it, but the library felt like we had to have it just in case.
Yesterday a new statistical abstract came in about international freight cargo shipping. Had somebody asked me “Should we keep this?” before I sorted through that section, I would have said “Of course!” But I know better now. I saw how little most of our stuff about freight shipping was used. Books and reports talking about the logistics, the theory, optimization, research. That was used. Reports for various ports, broad overviews, they weren’t touched. So my response was, “You should ask Professor “Logistics”, but my feeling is that it’d be nice to have someday maybe, but it’s not really going to get used and we don’t really need it.” So my colleague went down the hall, asked the professor, and got pretty much that same answer. That’s $100 we won’t need to spend next year.
Now I’m going back to sift through our stuff about local transportation. For all of the really valuable reports and documents about BART, we have piles and piles of public meeting minutes. While it might have been a good idea to collect that back when the system was getting started, nobody has gone back and asked, “Do we need this? Is it our responsibility? Is this something our researchers want?” For the most part, I think no, but that makes me feel a bit uneasy.
Regardless… weeding shouldn’t be put off until there’s a crisis. These questions about collection development should be in the backs of our minds all the time, taking it back to the stakeholder when necessary.