I’m challenged to focus this morning, so I’m going to try writing as brain-organizer. The two things on my mental agenda to write about are our website launch and our weeding project. I’m going to start with weeding, but the website is coming.
On Friday, I hosted this semester’s luncheon for the faculty who serve as departmental liaisons to the libraries, and there I announced our upcoming weeding project. Late on Monday an all-faculty email went out, describing the projects and processes.
We don’t fully know the scope of the project, yet, but we do know that we need to move 12% of the collection out of the basement where it’s currently housed, and we need to make additional (as yet uncalculated) reductions in collection size in order to reset our stacks to ADA compliance. And 11% of the stacks are in spaces the architect intended for user space. I also know that we have 13,000 monographic records that show no use in the last 9 years but also were published before 1950, and that we’re starting with those. So those are some numbers.
The whole project and our process is described here, and is linked off our website. I’m aiming for transparency and collaboration, but I’m also struggling to ensure that we’re efficient and thoughtful about our professional obligation to curate these collections.
So far, I’ve gotten minimal feedback. A single request for more information from a faculty member who is a long-time engaged friend of the libraries, and a single “oh my, discarding books. Yikes.” response from another member of the faculty who admits to being “old school about libraries.” Expected, and expectable, and both have received responses from me thanking them for their interest and opinions.
That said, I have quiet dread that this is going to get very hard as we move forward. Possibly hard because the voices of grave concern simply haven’t chosen to speak yet. Possibly hard because information and how we maintain it is at the core of the academic enterprise. Possibly hard because the librarians don’t think this is easy, and it’s not going to get easier as we push through the process. Possibly hard because we’re setting some other work aside in order to accomplish this, and prioritizing is complicated. Possibly hard because I’ve committed to being transparent, which often means people can ask smarter, more challenging questions based on the data you offer. Possibly hard because I’m conjuring unseen demons made of smoke and flame out of my own anxiety about doing something that is, as noted, challenging to the core of the academic enterprise.
But I believe in it. All logical and factual reasons based in construction schedules and space use data and collection use stats aside, one thing that we also know as service professionals in a library is that sometimes you help a student find the book they identified in the catalog and you think, “Why are you using that one? Is that the best we have?” and the answer, after you search, is No. No, it’s not the best we have. The best we have is two shelves away under a slightly different search, and that crappy one is just cataloged in a way that led the student to it faster. So if we want our users to identify, locate, and use the very good stuff that we have and to do it with ease, we have to ensure that the collection is healthy. We have to ensure that we’ve gotten rid of the “you’re using that?” stuff. We have to hone the last 100 years of collecting decisions down to the core of excellence lying underneath layers of decades of occasional bad choices.
It’s hard work. It’s challenging, unpopular, sometimes controversial work. But it matters. So we’re going to do it.