Categories
library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 3

(Continued from parts 1 and 2.)

OK, so, I’m ready to stop writing about this, not least of why being that I scanned over 3,000 items for removal yesterday and my hand kind of doesn’t work right now…? But yeah, I was able to remove about 6,000 items from the collection in the last two and a half months. Unfortunately, it wasn’t before we did our ILS migration (which means we had to pay to migrate items over that wound up getting deleted a couple months later…womp womp). There was no way I could have done that much if we were regularly open, though.

So I mentioned at the end of Part 2 that I’d talk about how I got through this stuff so quickly. The number one way was that we weren’t open to patrons this semester, and there wasn’t much else for me to do on the days I was on campus other than paging for delivery. I initially had been trying to do things pretty conventionally, to pull things off the shelf that looked sus and scan them into a spreadsheet that would identify if it had circulated in the past 4-5 years or not. Given that no weeding happened in this library for the first 20 years of its existence, though, that wound up being a ton of stuff – just scads of things that would never be consulted in paper form anymore, and books that probably seemed like they had five years of shelf life back in 2003. To save myself time, I flipped the script a bit.

I started pulling lists of books that had actually circed in the last 4-5 years (we don’t have data for any earlier than that) and placed them on carts flagged for keeping, while clearing off the contents of the shelves that we weren’t keeping on separate carts. This required a crapton of carts; I had 16 at my disposal. It helped me speed up selection for weeding as well as shifting, and helped me get a good idea of how much space the newly decreased collection would take up on the shelves. Another benefit of doing it this way was being able to figure out which classes were just overwhelming non-circulators and could be eliminated more or less entirely. These aligned with subjects we don’t teach (army/naval history, agriculture and forestry, etc), but might have been most useful in the most popular classes where we really needed to do some culling (computer science and physics, in particular).

The biggest problem that came out of this was how quickly the carts filled up with discards. I saw a couple different ways to handle this, but ultimately wound up cycling through a process of filling up carts, scanning everything on them, and emptying them onto tables (and eventually the floor) so student workers could come in and take the final steps (crossing out barcodes and boxing them up for Better World Books donation).

I want to stop here to point out how much physical work it is to do this kind of weeding. I’ve had to take epsom salt baths, use a massage pillow, and get extra liberal with the Advil to be able to do this. I’ve thrown my back out more than once, one time badly enough that I could hardly use stairs for a couple days. My scanner arm/hand is still kind of weirdly numb over a day after I stopped my marathon yesterday. Be careful out there if you’re doing this, especially when getting massages and chiropracting might not be on your covid activities list.

This might seem like too much for some libraries, and that’s probably true. But the fact is, our circulation rate of books was so low that even if I wound up getting rid of things people still want – and I’m sure there’s no way that didn’t happen, considering over 6,000 of them got weeded – it will be very easy for me to replace them. I think a collection of well under 10,000 print volumes makes sense for a library serving a student body of 330, and in our strategic planning, we asked about how space should be allocated in the future. Students overwhelmingly asked for fewer books (not none!) and more study and group work space, and that’s what they will get…once I can buy new furniture to remove the shelving we’re getting rid of. I also changed our shelf ranges from having five overstuffed rows that looked messy and uncared for to three nice and neat rows that leave ample room for adding titles, and will make browsing and paging easier.

This week, I decided to hire a few more student workers to help lighten the load – we were trying to get by with just one before. There’s a few too many steps for one person doing it to be able to do it all that quickly, so now we have people working assembly line-style: specifically on building boxes, crossing out barcodes, packing boxes, and moving them to the pickup location. I’ve been passing them into this production line as soon as I’m done scanning them, and I finished scanning yesterday, which means I can let the students do their thing with minimal supervision. This frees me up for my time on campus, so I’ll be working in the archives next, and while it’s going to be a dumpster fire of a different variety, I’m so excited to have something else to focus on.

I wish I’d taken more photos to document all of this, but I think we had about 21,000 items at our peak last summer and now we’re down to about 9,500. A bunch of shelving on both floors is gone now and we don’t have any shelves that are full of so much crap that you can’t easily browse through it, and we don’t have anything so close to the floor that you have to get on your hands and knees to grab it. Back when we did our strategic plan survey last fall, someone described the library as having “old man garage sale vibes.” I really hope we’ve moved beyond that now, lol.

Categories
library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 2

(Continued from part 1.)

Alright, so let’s talk about moving the art, design, and photography books first. I mentioned last time that the photography books moved to the quiet reading room (at one time called the “photography room”) and while I still am not sure I am completely on board with an engineering college having nearly one thousand photography books, it’s a pretty awesome collection, so given how many garbage books about globalization and outdated ones about internet culture from 2002 I also had to contend with, I more or less left this stuff alone. We got the photography shift done right before students were sent home in March and we had to start working remotely. I’m still trying to play around with different ideas for shelving it a little more sustainably and in a way that’s browsing friendly, but this has been tough because another issue I inherited is that the shelves in that room are just long, expensive pieces of wood. They look nice, but they also mean it’s dominoes time if you don’t divvy up the collection with bookends.

When we were moving the photography books and when we initially got the art books downstairs, I still had student workers to help me, but that didn’t last long (I only have two working physically on campus this semester for various reasons, mostly having to do with safety and staffing). One of my student workers did an amazing job reshelving the Ns in a place where they’ll be far more browsable, and she played around with shelf heights and facing to make an appealing display. This was so much better than their previous relegation to rickety ersatz moveable shelves where they barely fit and couldn’t be even so much as thumbed through without creating an enormous headache. But when I started coming in regularly again back in September, I had the NAs, NBs, NCs, NDs, NKs, and NXs awaiting me, as well as a bunch of music scores that are not the most appropriate element of our collection but also not a hill worth dying on at the moment.

With our print periodicals collection culled between my efforts in the past year and the obvious money-saving choice to cancel those while we’re closed to foot traffic, I wound up with a periodicals shelf that lent itself very well to smushing a ton of music scores in a relatively small space. I put a handful of well-known composers’ works on the display side (the part that lifts up so you could see back issues of magazines, if that’s what we were using it for). On the other side of the shelf, I moved the contemporary music scores and started the NAs in the next range over. The other Ns are on the shelf across from this one; there’s a large work table in between these shelves, and our workroom (pseudo-makerspace) is right next to the place where the NBs through NXs now reside. I like the thought of the art books being right next to the art space. The design books in TS will ultimately wind up close to that room as well, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

I didn’t get rid of a ton of the Ns for reasons similar to the photography books – there’s just so much more elsewhere in the stacks that needs to go before we target these, and I think putting them in a more sensible and patron-friendly space will increase their usage for sure. I did weed some that were in crappy condition or didn’t fit in the space I had allocated for each of the N subclasses. I also did my best to split things up so it’s much easier to know when NA ends and NB starts, for instance. This was not how things were shelved before.

There’s a temptation when you’re shifting to just cram things in where they’ll fit, because you’re forever worrying about running out of space as you keep going. Resist that temptation and think about the person who is going to be browsing and searching these shelves – that includes you. You will save yourself and patrons so much time if you can shelve books in a way that helps you easily know where QA76.76 starts and ends and QA76.9 begins, etc. If you have a job where you’re not routinely working in the stacks or pulling or finding books, which was how my previous job was, you still really should take the time to figure out where everything is, and I swear you’ll find that simpler if you don’t have shelves crammed to their limits and starting willy-nilly with classes and cutter numbers. If you’re worried about space, weed more stuff, or depending on your space considerations, consider getting more shelves instead of jamming things in wherever they’ll fit.

Now, most people who’ve done shifts before know that when you start moving things around, you tend to trigger a chain reaction of other things that need to move, too. In the case of moving the Ms and Ns to the two shelves I mentioned, this meant dealing with the tail end of the collection because of the bizarre way the stacks had been arranged before. On the lower level of the library, there is a built-in shelf along one of the longest walls in the space, and then the free-standing shelves are lined up in parallel lines starting from across from the built-in shelf and extending to the opposite end of the library. The now-home of the Ms and Ns is across from two of the long rows of shelves in this parallel line area. (I’ll put a floor map in this post at some point, since this is tough to explain verbally.) So they’re not after the other shelves; they’re lined up with what now houses P through T. Anyway, the main point here is that the books displaced by the Ms and Ns were the back half of the TKs (electrical engineering, a large collection for us), TLs (motor vehicles and astronautics, another large collection), TNs (mining and metallurgy; we only have a handful), TXs (cookbooks, mostly), U (military science), V (naval science), and good ol’ Z (library science).

I moved all of these books onto trucks so I could get the Ms and Ns where I wanted them to go, and I let them sit for a while as I moved alphabetically through the classes, but I got sick of people from other libraries requesting random stuff from the TKs, so I wanted to get that stuff out of the collection as quickly as possible. I figured it was a good time to prioritize what to target next, since that initial push of getting stuff downstairs was behind me. So, I turned to good ol’ Sierra’s Create Lists reporting function. I knew from our previous ILS that we had 14,000+ items that had never circed. The circ data did make its way over in the form of “total checkouts” in Sierra, so I was able to run a report to show me only the things that had circed (we’re talking about a collection of about 16,000 items, so that was between 2-3,000). I used Excel to arrange the circed items by classes and figure out which had circed the most, and which items in particular, and used the lists to do the following:

  1. determine which classes should be targeted for extreme weeding
  2. determine which classes could/should get by with less weeding
  3. separate the wheat from the chaff and keep only the books that had circed in the last 4 years, which is what I have data for

This seems like a good place to end for today, but next time I’ll talk about how looking at things from this angle vs. the more traditional “cull things with zero circs” angle is saving my sanity and helping me move through the rest of the collection in warp speed. Ciao!

Categories
library mgmt

weeding thoughts, part 1

Oh, hello there. I have been very bad about doing this whole NaBloWriMo thing, but I came home so bodily exhausted last night (and so in need of finishing Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys) that I just didn’t even bother. I’m still worn and stressed out af, but I figure I can hack an entry here while I’m half-watching the Leonard Betts episode of The X-Files. Mulder and Scully have some excellent face shields on as they’re poking through Leonard’s vacated morgue locker.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about how training and knowledge transfer in libraries is utter garbage and how this impacts new managers/directors. I almost added “most of all” to the end of that sentence, but I don’t think that’s really true. I think the way it impacts people in leadership positions a little differently than folks in other positions is that there is a greater assumption that managers/directors will know how to do “everything” the minute they show up. That’s not to say that assumption doesn’t exist for new staff members at other levels; it’s just to a different degree. This is a big challenge for new leaders who are trying to establish their trustworthiness and competence with colleagues. While I’d say the most ideal situation is one in which the new manager can ask the existing staffers for help and training without negative consequences, that’s not always how it shakes out. In those cases, the manager has some other options for getting the knowledge they need–consulting peers in the field, professional development, personal research, etc. I’ve done all of these things, but what I probably default to more often than not is just winging an approach together based on my own instincts and trial and error.

Before coming to mcpow, I only had cursory experience with weeding when I was trying to scrunch a collection into a renovated building with reduced shelving, and I had to do my best at getting rid of old Russian romance novels for a couple days. But one of the most obvious things that needed to be done in my new library was maaaaassive weeding. We decided to switch ILSes a few months after I arrived and the collection has never been weeded in the 20 years it’s existed. There is a boggling amount of outdated technology and education books from 2000-2005, and because of…interesting choices made by leadership, not much was added between 2015-2019. As I started to evaluate the collection even without easy access to custom reports and data (part of the reason why we switched ILSes), I saw so many wtf choices on the shelves – 45 books on origami, two dozen on ancient art in China, at least a hundred about teaching online (all from before 2008). Looking at a report of the 14,000+ items that hadn’t circed in over three years, it became clear we had a huge task in front of us, and we decided to start with low-hanging fruit.

The first thing to go was our thousand-odd CDs that had been crammed into the two lower ranges of a bookcase housing a DVD and…shudder…VHS collection. Now, keep in mind, our students all receive a school-issued laptop, and it’s been several years since it was a model that had a disk drive. This stuff was worthless – not findable and not usable. We went ahead and removed everything from our collection and then invited the community to come and take what they wanted (obviously we didn’t get many takers, since our community is mostly people born in the early 2000s). I offered up the remains first to a few local libraries that expressed interest, then sent the rest off to the amazing godsend business that calls itself Better World Books.

Around this time, it became clear that we needed to shift the collection to better suit the way our space is used. When I arrived, we had about ten shelves on casters stuffed with books on the first floor. The idea was that they could be moved around to accommodate flexible space use, but they were full of art. photography, and design books – y’know, big, oversized, chonky coffee table books. That means they weighed hundreds and hundreds of pounds and required multiple people to shove around. This infuriated me right away, and it didn’t make sense to me to have the stacks as fractured as they were (Ns and some Ts upstairs with all other nonfiction books on the lower level). Our highest-circulating collection is fiction, even at an engineering college, so I decided to move the fiction from downstairs in a weird random corner to the first floor and to shift all of the art and design books downstairs. The photography books shifted over into our quiet reading room, which I just found out is where they originally were before there was an attempt to interfile the oversized books of all classes in that room.

Bringing the art and design books downstairs meant that if they were going to be shelved in a way that was appealing for browsing and not just more of the same claustrophobic mess from upstairs, everything else was going to have to move, too, and we were going to need a hell of a lot less of it. But how to get started on evaluating dozens of subjects I didn’t know the first thing about? I’ll talk about that next time in this exciting series that I promise not to forget about.

Categories
library mgmt navel gazing

wat

Okay, so I am trying to write something in an attempt at doing NaBloWriMo, which is a thing I think I invented but am guessing if I put it in ye olde search bar I’ll find I am not nearly so clever as I’d like to feel–ugh, I couldn’t resist. Yep. Well, no matter who can lay claim to the concept, I’m going to try to write in this here blog instead of banging my head against the wall attempting to write a novel, for which I have two ideas that both suck and are way too much about my dumb romantic travails.

I’m not sure that I actually have anything more to say in the form of blogging, but I probably should given the amount of turmoil at pretty much all levels of life at the moment. A week and a half ago, I heard there will be a reorganization and layoffs starting very soon at work, and it’s still quite unclear how that’s all gonna go down. This past weekend, our beloved cat Avey brushed up against death from complications after a teeth cleaning (because they anesthetize cats for that) and we spent the entirety of it, and a whole bucketload of cash, on making sure he’s OK (he is, thank fuck). Now, we’re onto night two of election anxiety, though things are looking relatively promising for Biden at this point. Massachusetts is finally putting some restrictions in place for trying to reverse the huge spike in covid cases, though what Charlie’s suggesting doesn’t seem like enough when you consider the number of cases is up almost 300% since Labor Day.

This is ostensibly a library blog, so I guess I’ll write about library stuff, though to be honest I’ve had my head down in my own library for so long that I don’t feel qualified to comment on others. We had some drama in the state association last month after it spilled onto Twitter, and I was super irritated to be dragged into it in part because I guess I’ve developed some kind of “controversial figure” reputation. It’s sad that advocating for workers’ safety and dignity is controversial, but whaddaya gonna do. Anyway, between that and uncertainty regarding the whole being able to keep a roof over my head thing, I’m mostly not raging against the library machine for the time being (or if I am, I’m not being publicly vocal about it).

It’s been really tough to be a manager through the duration of covid, which is not a thing I am saying to diminish the toughness faced by anyone else out there. I should say it’s at least tough if you’re trying to do the right things and keep your staff safe and relatively sane. I have been trying to do that, and trying to make decisions with empathy and integrity at the center, not some meaningless obsession with productivity or vocational awe (“these students just NEED us to be in the building for them!!”). But wow. Trying to bolster people’s spirits when your own morale is circling multiple drains and has been for eight months is not easy to do. Given our situation, I’m not sure how to help people going without giving them false hope, but if I don’t keep them going, things are going to get unsustainable very quickly.

I’ve got plenty of work to do so I’m not that concerned about staying focused on my various distractions right now. Since we’ve been back in the building, I’ve gotten another thousand books or so weeded and have shifted a huge chunk of the collection. I taught myself how to put protective jackets on books (we mostly have GOBI do that, but it’s handy for these emergency Bookshop and BWB buys). I rearranged a good chunk of the lower level, relocating the 3D printers back to the shops where there is proper lighting and ventilation and making space for our fleet of sewing machines. While I’m at home, I’ve been wrapping my head around the ins and outs of Sierra, using Create Lists to generate reports that Tind always made too goddamn impossible (we did an ILS migration over the summer). I spent a good chunk of time analyzing our database use in the past few months and trying to improve upon our methods for gathering stats. We’ve got a new digital repository up and running. I wrote about our progress on our Spring ’20/Fall ’20 action plan in the school newspaper.

I guess I’m saying all of this because it’s nice to reaffirm for myself how much I’m getting done, even if it mostly goes unnoticed. I also want other people to know that they, too, can succeed on projects like these, even when the world is a flaming pile of garbage and your predecessor left you with an effervescing volcano of bullshit you need to fix. So here’s the motivational speech I couldn’t muster in person this week: if you have maladaptive coping mechanisms that tend towards workaholism, you’re not alone. Alright, that wasn’t all that motivational.

This wasn’t much of a post, but I’m whipped and I’m going to bed and I think you should, too. Unclench your jaw and stuff.