Up from the ashes (part four)

Choices… choices… that’s what it’s all about these days. Our initial decision was to reorder the books we’d ordered over the summer – seemed a “duh” since we knew they were wanted. But what next? Luckily, the catalog server was in another building and so we can retrieve circ. data from the past two years (when we migrated from Athena to InfoCentre we lost the previous data).

Still, think about it: if a non-fiction book has not circulated in two years, what is that saying? In many cases, it’s saying that the curriculum has moved on, that the wonderful project on – say – the Treaty of Versailles has morphed into another project, equally wonderful. So perhaps that many books on the Treaty aren’t needed. It’s also probably saying “these are the topics we’re interested in now“. At MPOW, that means things like the Green Movement and genocide (we have a group of students very involved with the Darfur problem). My feeling is that that’s a great place to start looking at replacement books: those books that circulated (including in-house use) more than twice in two years.

Prior to this, we’d been doing a massive rethink of the collection. Some schools brag about the number of volumes on shelves. Why is this important? I railed against this when discussing evaluation guidelines for independent school libraries: you can have 30-40 books per child, but if they’re the wrong 30-40 books who cares?????. It’s not doing them any good, it just makes your stats and your shelves look better. I’d rather know that I have 10 really great books per child than watch 75% of my collection sit on the shelves gathering dust. So that’s a stat we’ll be looking at carefully: books circulated as a percentage of the collection. We pulled old data (from the Athena days) and were looking at every book on the shelf: had it circulated? was it relevant to today’s curriculum? If neither were true, then we considered tossing or updating. Some (Silent Spring, for example) are too classic to not keep, but others were slated to be tossed now or revisited in a couple of years.

The Good News about the fire is that we can start fresh, asking teachers for their input on “if you had to create the perfect collection of books for your discipline, what would it be?” I’ve already gotten some lists, and I know that my colleagues are thinking hard (when they’re not planning First Week lessons). I know that there will be books that are “Like to Haves” on those lists, and those might get plopped onto our Amazon Wish List. I also know that not every book will circulate this year – or even next. That’s ok, because not every book needs to circulate (and, being honest, we won’t be in the type of space that lends itself to research/browsing for a while, even though we’ll be building the collection). But it’s a good starting point, a place where we can say “ok, in 3… 5… 10 years, how has this book done?” and evaluate its need to stay in the collection, on the shelves from there.

We’re also working on new electronic resources. Heretofore, the faculty has been resistant. Oh, they understand that a database isn’t “the Internet”, but the training and use and all that have been relegated to that “sometime I’ll rework the project” mindset. Reality is that right now, that’s the best place for our kids to start because the books they relied on aren’t there. They may be there in a few months, but they may not. Our going into the classroom to demo the databases, to work with students in a lab setting, to highlight what great resources are “out there” will help students become better users of what takes a great deal of my budget.

Another choice we’re making is to not accept donated books. I say that’s a choice, because some of the donations we want. Most, however… not so much. For example, I can count at least ten people who have massive collections of National Geographic that they’d be happy – thrilled, honored, even – to donate to the school. Funny thing about that: we’ve already gotten rid of the print backlog and given it to our science department. We don’t want the print issues from the 1960s (and if we do, there’s a bunch of copies in the MS Science Lab that we can look at). One parent wants to donate the books used for their doctoral dissertation – this is a K-12 school! Another “helpful” suggestion is creating a group of parents with Masters Degrees and having them choose the next collection (as if our teachers, with Masters and Doctorates aren’t qualified; as if my staff, with our MLS degrees, aren’t qualified).

I understand the impulse to give, to help in this time of need. Part of me is cynical and says that they only really want the tax write-off for books they really don’t want to keep anyway. And that may be part of it. Our Head says he’s suggested to some big donors (10,000+ books) that they give and allow us to sell so we can purchase what we need – no dice. Once we have the lists of what we really do want and would like/need on our shelves, I suspect they won’t let us cherry pick their collections either. Lucky for me we have 100% replacement value on the collection, so we’ll be able to do what we need to provide the best collection possible for our students.

As I said, choices… choices…

3 thoughts on “Up from the ashes (part four)”

  1. While I completely understand your feelings about donors, I sort of see their standpoint, too. Like most anything, it seems, even when we give something away we feel it is saying things about US, therefore how others see it/use it/dispose of it also says something.There’s also a part of us that wants to know that something on which we spent a lot of money and time still has value. It’s always a little disheartening to face that as we age, so does knowledge age. I remember getting an (almost) complete set of books on all the countries of the world when I was a teenager. The huge atlas was the best part, although I did use the rest of the set now and then. They were quite out of date (this was probably a 40 book set originally, and I had perhaps 35 of the books). The person who gave it to me probably felt very virtuous about it. As far as I know, my stepdad threw them out when I left. I didn’t even take the big atlas.

  2. If a non-fiction book hasn’t circulated in two years, it’s passe, really? That just seems so wrong to me…(and understand that I know I have no Library Science training or expertise or anything… it’s just a gut reaction, and worth about as much as the phrase implies… but still…)

  3. Cam, that’s not exactly what I’m saying – it’s more, this is a good place to start when we buy books for the shelves. Something that has been circulating is obviously more of a “must have now” than something just gathering dust; there are several guidelines for things like copyright (particularly in the sciences) that we’ll use once we’ve got the core together.

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