Tag Archives: collection development

Where Old Libraries Go

Father-in-Law called this afternoon to ask if I’d seen the article that said libraries all over the country were being changed into community centers where people could go to learn things. Odd that he should bring that up now, since it kinda ties in with the underlying premise of the Infopeople course I’m taking, Revisioning the Reference Collection: “[libraries] exist … for the community that the library was built to serve. … We have to evaluate the collections and services of our own library on the basis of how well they meet the needs of our parent community.”

Currently, those needs include assistance and skills related to self-help legal issues and finding jobs, including getting an email address, becoming conversant with Microsoft Excel, finding and filling out employment applications, and creating and filing resumes. Oh, and faxing service! (Who the heck still wants materials faxed?) In my experience, those who are seeking that kind of help have not been regular library users, and so they also need a refresher about library cards. A typical exchange:
“Yeah, I need to go on your Internet?”
“Our public computers are on the 3rd floor. You will need a library card to log on. Do you have a Sacramento library card?”
“Um, I think I used to have one a long time ago. Can you look me up?”
“Sure thing! Let me see your photo ID. … Hmmm … I guess it has been a while! Are you still living at …”

And once the library card issue is fixed, off they go to the 3rd floor, where staff now learns they are “computer-illiterate”, have no email account, and will need a lot of coaching to be successful at the particular online task they’re working on today. Add to that the certainty that they will probably not be able to accomplish it all within the time slot, and that they are completely unprepared to save their work on a flash drive so it doesn’t get wiped when the computer refreshes for the next user. Multiply this by about 5 people per hour times 8 hours per day … and it’s easy to see how someone could infer that libraries are now learning centers for the “computer-illiterate.”

The funny thing is that libraries have always seen themselves as learning centers – albeit for self-directed learning, not for technology classes. Library staff has become the tech guide for a whole class of people that used to be confident and capable, and now feel hopelessly out of their depth and behind the times. What’s changed is what people are coming in to learn. And it’s not available in the reference collection.

There are still students working on assignments, but there are also many authoritative reference resources online that are more up-to-date than our dusty reference tomes. Students can use these resources from home and school, those without a computer or internet connection can use the library’s equipment and wifi. And so, I can no longer justify spending unholy amounts of money on print resources that will be outdated next year and need to be replaced for an additional unholy sum.

A colleague and I are going through my library’s reference collection this summer, removing the deadwood and making recommendations for what to let go and what to replace. I’m hoping that the class we’re taking will reinforce our mandate to provide the resources our community needs, instead of preserving the outdated tools of the past.

Where Old Books Go

I’m weeding half of our reference collection. I now realize I’ve come down on the far side of a fence. It divides those who think public libraries should be archives of books and arcane finding aids from those who believe public libraries should be repositories of information and information-finding tools in all formats, taking full advantage of easily-updatable and portable electronic formats.

Looking at all the old, one-of-a-kind books I am removing from our collection, I feel a nostalgia for the sweat equity I put into learning about print sources: the hours spent examining indexes, introductions, scope notes, imprints, editions. The getting-to-know-you feeling that comes from that initial “handshake” with a book. In another time, these tomes were useful and used. Today, the bindings are worn, the print is faded, the knowledge contained inside updated in other sources. They are superseded. I’m weeding them. The shelves look empty, but I feel good that the books that are left will be used more, now that the outdated volumes are gone.Books like those I’m weeding have a place – just not in this public library.

Research libraries still exist on college campuses and as private institutions. I use them myself, and am grateful for the librarians that had the foresight to know which books would have lasting value for researchers. Those old books will always have a place to call home, complete with book sofa, like this 1867 document in the New Orleans Historical Collections.

New Orleans Public Library

I’m staying on in New Orleans to do some family history research. I’m hoping to find something in newspapers from 1867-70 about my mother’s great-grandfather, who was imprisoned in Jamaica and then deported. His obituary in the Jamaica Gleaner says he spent the next 3 years in New Orleans, and was recognized by the City for assistance during an epidemic.

However, family history research is notoriously full of plot twists and brick walls. So far, there is no mention of him at all in the card index to New Orleans newspapers, nor in the city directories for 1867-68. NOPL subscribes to NewsBank’s historical Times-Picayune, and again it was a dead-end.

So tomorrow I’m going to visit the New Orleans Historical Collections in the French Quarter to see if there might be something there that would provide additional information about this elusive ancestor.  Wish me luck!

Flamout in 2010

Spent an interesting afternoon chasisng down information we used to have in print materials, only to find we don’t, any more.  I didn’t think it would be this hard to find crash test and other ratings for a 2010 Dodge Avenger, but we don’t have a current subscription to the print serial and Gale didn’t have any useful articles that I could find. Houston, we have a gap!

Other colleagues have commented on the aggressive weeding project we’ve undertaken over the past year, and now year two of the project is beginning.  The last time I’ve seen so many empty shelves at Central was 19 years ago, when we were unboxing materials from storage and putting them on the shelves.  At that time, there was, in fact, LOTS of stuff that needed weeding after spending 5 years in boxes.  But over time, our collection development/management philosophy went head-to-head with the Internet and online resources and lost, and our materials budget was hamstrung by the assessment tax that could not be used for Central Library at all.  So now, it’s time to weed again, and there’s almost nothing left of the strong reference collection we used to have.

Bottom line, the person who asked about the car got a less-than-adequate answer to the Avenger question.

What is a Good Phone Ref Collection?

I am weeding the collection used by the librarians who staff the telephone reference service for my library system.  When the service was inaugurated a generation ago, the collection consisted of about 500 titles and was the equal of the reference collection at community branches.  In those days, we had no Internet, and we actually used some books daily, others less often.  I remember fighting to keep the Thomas Register and Martindale Hubbel sets, and agonizing over the choice of Ulrich’s vs Gale’s Directory.  Now, we could go weeks without touching hard copy, and the budget is slashed.  The collection is old and needs to be weeded.  The Big Question is whether to replace what’s going away, or rely on online sources.

Part of me wants to keep a basic reference collection against the day that the computers are down.  The other part wants to buy electronic resources, either titles like those in the Gale Virtual Reference Desk, or databases like Marquis Who’s Who. The kinds of questions we get has changed, and we find we are doing a lot of directory assistance and account management for our callers, with “real” reference questions trailing by a noticeable margin.

When I look at the number of titles I am pulling, and see the dwindling remainder pitifully occupying a quarter of the space of the old collection, I’m wondering if we even need a collection! That’s heresy!  But I have said in the past that I believed we could answer the majority of all the questions we get with a dictionary, the World Book Encyclopedia, and the World Almanac.  Add the Kelley Blue Book, a science encyclopedia, an etiquette book and the Internet, and we’re good for anything our callers can throw at us.  Our Internet goes down so seldom, now, that I don’t believe we need to factor it into collection decisions.  <Sniff> Our callers have outgrown our little service ; they are doing more for themselves before they reach for the phone.

Our educational programs and one-on-one teaching are having an effect, and we’ve “taught” ourselves out of a job – in reference, anyway.   The directory and account management calls are spiking, and we are now looking into the feasibility of having clerical staff answer all the calls, and referring the caller to a reference librarian only if it’s a reference question. This will require that we take a critical look at our service model, and that is in the works for this quarter.