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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 There is a boggling amount of outdated technology and education books from 2000-2005, and because of…interesting choices made by leadership, not much was added between 2015-2019.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.

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