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Within a two mile radius of my little corner of Brookfield, Wisconsin there are four Little Free Libraries. I like the concept: People sharing books. People creating a collection. People encouraging reading. Targeting under-served areas/people. Those are good things. But it’s not a library. And I feel guilty and elitist for saying it. I mean, how could you not love this?

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

little free libraries. A Creative Commons-licensed photo via Flickr user davidsilver: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidsilver/11783413894/

There are, of course, benefits to the little free libraries movement. Lane Wilkinson discusses this in his What can we learn from DIY libraries post and Tara Murray writes about it in her post, Truly DIY Libraries.

Do I feel like a little free library is seriously encroaching on a “real” library’s mission and objectives? No.

But here’s what I do worry about: the general public’s perception and the lumping together of little free libraries and actual “real” public libraries.

“Hey look, any volunteer can create a library!”

“Why do we need trained professionals when an 17-year old Eagle Scout has put together such a nice library?”

“Why do we need our tax money to go to something that can be done for FREE?”

“With these Little Free Libraries, we can just cut grants to libraries and use that money elsewhere.” (oh wait, that’s already being proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.)

A library is not a wooden box. Above all, a library is:

  • a place both physical and virtual
  • a place to get help
  • a place to get information
  • a place to collaborate
  • a place to learn
  • a place to socialize

A handcrafted box of books – no matter how lovely (and many are!) – is not a library. It’s an open bookdrop. A library is more than just that.

Weeding – withdrawing books from the library’s collection – is one those dreaded librarian tasks. It usually sits on the back burner – other projects are often more pressing, or it’s simply being avoided. However, it’s an important task and one that can be fraught with controversy.

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Public libraries which frequently need to refresh their collections to offer bestsellers often pop up in the news when it comes to weeding books – mostly for not doing the job well – see Urbana Free Library in Illinois, Fairfax County Libraries in Virginia, and Davenport Public Library in Iowa.

For academic libraries, the process seems to be a taboo subject. News about book weeding occasionally bubbles to the surface (see Emporia State University in Kansas, the University of North Dakota law libraryNicholls State University in Louisiana, and the University of New South Wales in Australia). After all, the library is the academic heart of the institution. Why would you purge the library?

Why Do We Weed?

  • To remove books that are not being used
  • To remove books with outdated or obsolete information/philosophies (that have no historical use)
  • To identify books that are damaged or in poor condition
  • To identify gaps in the collection and make new purchases
  • To align the collection with the university’s goals, mission, and curriculum
  • Limited space for the collection

It boils down to this: Weeding is simply the selection process in reverse. Librarians, using their knowledge, institutional interests, and professional tools, decide which books to purchase. We use that same skill set to decide what books to withdraw.

Libraries are Not Warehouses
For most academic libraries, our mission is not to collect the whole of human knowledge. We have limited space, limited resources. We are not a warehouse for books–a warehouse is a storage facility. Books are for using–not for sitting on a shelf for years on end.

Seek Input, but Use Your Expertise
Communication is key. Consult with professors in the weeding process. Outline the reasons for weeding and why the project is important for the library. Offer professors the chance to review books slated for withdrawal, but remember that the librarian should use his/her skills and tools to make a final decision.

The Space Race
Most academic libraries aren’t seeing a brand new library building – or even a remodel – anytime soon. Space is at a premium. We investigate how students spend time in the library and use its resources (see: University of Rochester study, ERIAL Project, Project Information Literacy, Pew Reports): How to do students use the facility? What do they not do that they would like to do? Stacks and stacks of bound periodicals generally do not make sense anymore in the off-chance a student might browse the section. It can’t compete – nor should it – with 24/7 perpetual access to resources such as JSTOR – available from the library website from anywhere in the world.

Curriculum Counts
Particularly with smaller academic library collections, the mission is to support the courses taught at the university–not necessarily a professor’s own research interests (although the two often match up). As the curriculum evolves, some programs are phased out and new programs implemented. The library collection will change based on the curriculum. It’s a “growing organism” (Ranganathan’s 5th law of library science).

Bad Circulation
We strive for a high-quality, high-use collection. Librarians look at circulation statistics (usually both check-outs and in-house browses) as just one criterion for deciding which books to withdraw – but it’s an important one. Will we keep “classic” items essential for each discipline? Of course. But a non-essential book published in 1975 that hasn’t been checked out since 1985 (that’s 29 years ago–older than most college students!)? Probably not.

Seeing Double
Gone are the days when libraries would purchase multiple copies of the same book to go into the circulating collection. Are those multiple copies getting checked out? Probably not. Even with a “classic” book, multiple copies are likely not warranted and will be weeded. Same goes for most superseded editions.

Waiting for ILL?
Will withdrawal of books lead students to waiting for materials through interlibrary loan? If the books weren’t being used in the first place, then probably not! Generally, lower-level undergraduates will be fine. Upper-level students may need to resort to interlibrary loan regardless of your weeded or un-weeded collection. ILL is also faster these days. If it’s absolutely central to students’ research, then they will wait. On the flipside: If books slated for withdrawal were so “important” – then your library would probably be receiving ILL requests for them. Guess what? They’re not!

Print v. Electronic
In some cases, print copies may be replaced with electronic copies. Will print books be going away anytime soon? No. Opinions on print v. electronic will vary by discipline. Seek input from faculty and students. However, electronic versions may hold an advantage for certain items: Think of digitized historical primary sources – accessible to anyone from anywhere – that’s a better scenario than one book checked out to one person.

The Mini-Library Problem

Often when books are discarded, professors want them for their collections. Policies will vary from library to library on this. I’ve worked at libraries that struggled against historical practices that lead to unofficial “mini-libraries” on-campus. Library staff worked hard to amalgamate library collections for the campus to provide centrally located services and ease of access. The idea of burgeoning “satellite” libraries is one that a lot of smaller academic libraries do not want to repeat.

Book Fetishists
I like books. You like books. I get it. But not every book is precious for your library. And not everyone is willing to come to an agreement on this. Librarians need to communicate and educate. Try to avoid the dumpster scenario if at all possible. Hold a book sale, offer to a used bookstore, or use outlets such as Better World Books. Make an effort to find a new home for these books.

Resources

A candidate for weeding - Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the '90s and Beyond - according to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.

A candidate for weeding: Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the ’90s and Beyond. According to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.

We get over 25% of our reference questions through chat and the number grows every year. I spend a lot of time guiding students to the right library databases and brainstorming keywords with them. Besides the library’s general chat box, instructors often refer students to our respective My Librarian chat boxes. Unless it’s a quick question, I generally operate under the “teach them to fish” approach. So I do a lot of the “Click on this…click on that. Why don’t you try this…” method.

I know some libraries use screen sharing apps to hone in and make sure students are getting the info they need. However, these apps often lead to end-user issues. Some people find it helpful. Others find it creepy. Students just want an answer–or a starting point.

Instead, I’ve come to rely on the ability to share permanent URLs of search results from our library databases. After the student has had a chance to search with me, I share the permanent URL for the search results on my computer screen to make sure the student is in the right spot. At my current workplace, our two largest database providers are EBSCO and Proquest.

EBSCO
Sharing permanent URLs of EBSCO searches is easy. On the search results page, just click on: Share >>> Use Permalink. Copy and paste the URL into your library’s chat box. The URL should be going through your library’s proxy server.

ebsco

Proquest
In Proquest, the option to share search results is a bit hidden, but still useful. In fact, at first glance I thought it wasn’t possible. However, the good folks at Proquest pointed me in the right direction. At the top of the page, click on: Recent Searches.

proquest1

Select: Actions >>> Get link. Copy and paste the URL into your library’s chat box. The URL should be going through your library’s proxy server.

proquest3

Providing the permanent URL gives students a good starting point and a well-formulated search strategy to build upon.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, this reference interaction popped into my head.

Now I normally don’t blog about specific patron encounters, but this one was years ago… circa 2003 when I was a newbie librarian.

A man approached the reference desk and asked a simple question:

Do you have any books on poultry?

With my newly minted MLS, I thought I better do a good reference interview:

Well, are you looking for books on any specific type of poultry: like chickens or turkeys? About farming, urban chickens, or feral? We have a fairly large agriculture collection. 

Wow, how self-important I sounded! It resulted in a quizzical look from the man. He said:

No! No! I’m looking for romance stuff.

At this point I’m confused. Chickens? Romance?

Then it dawned on me. He wasn’t looking for books about poultry. He was looking for books about POETRY. He wanted romantic poems. I misunderstood him.

You see, wanting to “impress” the patron with my knowledge, I should have just started the reference interview with a simple question: Can you tell me more about what you want to find? 

Problem solved and there wouldn’t have been a poultry/poetry dilemma. Lesson learned!

New Year, New Job

Haven’t blogged much lately. Still settling into my new job at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee. Hopefully after things settle down a little bit, I can get back to writing.

For now, I’m enjoying the new job. Not a huge move for me…luckily (I vow for no more cross-country moves!). After three good years at University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, I moved 100 miles south where it’s actually a few degrees warmer! My 82 mile daily round-trip commute is gone. It’s been replaced with a 16 mile round-trip commute and I’m enjoying the extra free (and sleep) time I get!

A welcome gift from my new co-workers at Carroll University.

A welcome gift from my new co-workers at Carroll University.

The new job is also broadening my skills. Whether you’re a new librarian or a seasoned veteran (at this point–after 11 years as a librarian I guess I fall into the latter group), it’s always important to adapt and acquire new skills.

I’m supervising reference and information literacy, managing the curriculum materials collection, and serve as the library’s liaison/collection manager for the education department, psychology department, and diversity services. I like being back at a smaller library/institution (3,000 students) where the job brings a lot of variety and you really get to know the faculty, staff, and students.

I get to order all of the "fun" stuff for the Curriculum Materials Collection.

I get to order all of the “fun” stuff for the Curriculum Materials Collection.

So that’s my January. Lots to learn! Hope your new year is off to a good start!

Morning at Carroll University - Wisconsin's oldest four-year institution, established in 1846.

Morning at Carroll University – Wisconsin’s oldest four-year institution, established in 1846.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the title. I know….I know…

I’ve been seeing posts and pictures recently of other library therapy dogs events. Who doesn’t like to see some doggie pics? So I thought I’d throw in my own experience:

Today was the library’s 3rd annual visit of therapy dogs (technically they’re outreach dogs–dogs that have passed their canine good citizenship test). It’s something that the students eagerly look forward to (and now come expect!) as fall semester Final Exams begin. We had 16 dogs with us today and several hundred students.

It’s a great way to put a different face on the academic library: to show students we care about their mental well-being. We want them relaxed for Final Exams. We want to relieve those jitters for a little while. This gives them an opportunity to take a break from studying if for just a bit.

I blogged about the broader topic last spring – De-Stressing for Student Finals –  and a colleague and I gave a presentation on marketing and outreach activities such as this last year: Creating an Engaging Library: Marketing from the Group Up.

For the library it costs little money. The local kennel club participants volunteer their time for free. Our marketing is via the library website, Facebook, and Twitter. We spent some money printing posters. It’s also important to be in contact with your parent organization’s risk management person to make sure the appropriate paperwork and insurance forms are filled out. Otherwise, it’s a pretty easy event to handle.

Concerns about noise and allergies? Although that’s definitely a legitimate concern, we’ve heard very little comment. We’re lucky in that our library is 7 floors. For us, it boils down to this: The event takes up 1 floor for 2 hours on 1 day a year. You have to balance the reward with the consequences. For us, the reward is overwhelming: This is an event that students look forward to. Students are lined up on the floor waiting to see the dogs as they come into the building. Want to see more? Check out these pics:

When I give a presentation, my slides tend to be more visual, or even abstract. I ditched the death-by-bullet point long ago. No one wants to sit through that. Put a few important keywords on a slide, add the rest to your notes, and use a powerful image to convey the spirit of the information you are trying to relay.

Finding Images

For finding free Creative Commons-licensed images that I can re-use, I tend to stick with:

Wither the Subject Heading

Here’s the problem: on user-generated sites like Flickr, most people obviously are NOT librarians. They categorize and tag photos HORRIBLY. If I’m giving a presentation and am talking about “innovation” – I cannot do a search for that as a keyword and find many quality images. So, you have to think outside the box.

Some Quick and Dirty Keywords You Can Use

What follows are some tried-and-true search terms that I’ve used to find images covering popular topics/subtopics typical to presentations:

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Got a great search tip to share when it comes to using images? Leave a comment below!

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