As we progress through the weeding project we embarked on this year, our Collection Development Coordinator, Marianne Hebert, sends out a weekly email to our faculty liaisons (one individual from each academic department) telling them that the week’s weeding list is ready for review. A few weeks ago she began including commentary and information in the emails, hoping to help our faculty colleagues understand the context in which we’re operating, and to keep the dialogue open about this project. This week’s email included some really interesting facts about our print collection usage that I wanted to share. (Note: This is circulations only, and only for our main stacks collection, so no music, media, children’s books, etc.)
These are the titles that for the most part, students are using (note that I could not exclude faculty, staff or ILL). For those of you who assign library research assignments, you will probably recognize some of the titles and themes. The titles with the highest loan transactions, were on reserve for at least one of the semesters.
Some number crunching:
Total titles that circulated: 11,034
# of titles that circulated more than once: 2018 (18%)
36% of the titles that circulated were published since 2000.
Less than 4% of the books that circulated were published prior to 1950.
PUBLICATION DATE # of titles %
2000-2012 4037 36.6%
1990-1999 2256 20.4%
1980-1989 1269 11.5%
1970-1979 1006 9.1%
1960-1969 1312 11.9%
1950-1959 507 4.6%
1940-1949 180 1.6%
1930-1939 102 0.9%
1920-1929 47 0.4%
1910-1919 31 0.3%
1900-1909 35 0.3%
1850-1899 40 0.4%
I am not surprised to see that Social Sciences, Fine Arts, and Literature are heavily used:
CALL NUMBER # of titles %
A — GENERAL WORKS 18 0.2%
B — PHILOSOPHY. PSYCHOLOGY. RELIGION 805 7.3%
C — AUXILIARY SCIENCES OF HISTORY 69 0.6%
D — WORLD HISTORY 846 7.7%
E — HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS 522 4.7%
F — HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS 208 1.9%
G — GEOGRAPHY. ANTHROPOLOGY. RECREATION 514 4.7%
H — SOCIAL SCIENCES 1340 12.1%
J — POLITICAL SCIENCE 169 1.5%
K — LAW 118 1.1%
L — EDUCATION 617 5.6%
N — FINE ARTS 2099 19.0%
P — LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE 2096 19.0%
Q — SCIENCE 853 7.7%
R — MEDICINE 397 3.6%
S — AGRICULTURE 49 0.4%
T — TECHNOLOGY 228 2.1%
U — MILITARY SCIENCE 31 0.3%
V — NAVAL SCIENCE 3 0.0%
Z — BIBLIOGRAPHY. LIBRARY SCIENCE 26 0.2%
So far, we’ve proposed to discard about 75 books in each week’s lists, all from the pre-1950 collection. In 6 weeks of lists, we’ve received 16 comments on books faculty wish we would keep. The most common comment is, paraphrased, “This author is important and we should keep this.” The challenge for our librarian selectors is that the fact that the author is important in the field does not have any bearing on whether or not students will use this material. That’s the shift that’s hard both to grasp and to communicate, because many academics hold tight to the idea that Libraries Have Important Works. And many libraries do have important works, but we can’t afford to have all the important works, so we need to have the best and most useful important works… The series of questions, in my mind, goes like this:
What is important subject matter?
How is that subject matter being taught?
How are those pedagogical approaches to the subject matter leading to library-provided information use?
Given that, which of our library-provided information resources will be used?
In our case, clearly, there are some areas in which our local pedagogical approaches to important subject matter are leading to use of library-provided books, and some areas in which our local pedagogical approaches are not. And the “which” of our materials are being used is also enlightening. If I had all day to play with numbers, I’d want to compare the percentage of use by decade of publication against our collection sizes per decade of publication — is it representative, or does it skew higher on use-per-book in certain decades? (I suspect it’s fair to suggest that the recent books are used more often than the pre-1950s, but hey, I could be wrong.)
The thing that I know and believe is that the answers to those questions are different for every institution, every library, every department, and every course. And they’re hard to ask, and hard to answer. But if you do, you should have a list of things/subject areas/types of material that are good, relevant, and likely to see use by your community, which, if you’re me, at a small undergraduate teaching institution with a limited physical and financial resource pool which must be carefully managed, is The Thing That Matters.
We’re continuing on. I have no stunning weeding revelations. But this has been a fascinating process, and it continues to produce interesting food for thought along with some less-crowded shelves.