I am pretty sure most HE (and other non-front line) librarians will be accused at some point in their life of not being a librarian because “you don’t even stamp books” or “you don’t reshelve” or my personal favourite “you don’t even touch the books“. These are all phrases that my fiancé has spouted at times when I/we meet new people and they ask what I do for a living. I could understand that when I first met him, he isn’t/hasn’t been a library user, but we’ve been together 5 and a half years…he SHOULD get it by now! I know that (largely) the public view of libraries and librarians is limited but that’s a whole different blog post. This post is about some of the “proper librarian” tasks that I am working on at the moment.
Lovely sunny day at Headingley Campus (just to make you all jealous)
At Leeds Beckett, there is a high demand collection (HDC) which is housed outside of the normal collection. Items in this area have limited loan periods; overnight or 3 days, and are usually core materials for a number of courses and are, obviously, in demand.
This summer the ground floor of the city library is getting a facelift so the team managing the work have discussed reducing the HDC; so that there are fewer shelving units required on the ground floor which would open up more study space (which we are always asked for). This means that all bar a few very specialist items will be interfiled with the rest of the collection but will remain as short loan items.
A list of all the items in the HDC was produced and it has given me the chance to familiarise myself with the popular books that my students use, which was really useful as I haven’t worked with health information for around 5 years. I reviewed the titles and looked at usage statistics. In my experience short loan items are not borrowed unless the item is core to a module, especially when standard loan copies are available as well. As the short loans are not subject to the same automatic renewals that the standard collection this can put students off because they do not want the hassle of having to bring it back so soon; which would be frustrating if no-one is waiting to borrow it.
After looking at the HDC list I found that some of the items had not been borrowed for years, were no longer on reading lists or newer editions were in stock. This has enabled me to request that they are changed to standard loan periods; which may help to increase usage and improve the student experience. It may also get students using the wider stock a bit more. We all know that there some students who only stick to core items until they really have to use other books.
The movement of the stock might create a little bit of confusion to begin with, I am imagining a few “ermmmm where’s that core book I need gone?” and “errrr why can I only have this overnight I got from the normal shelves?”. But these are only my assumptions and it’s nothing a little user education can’t solve. By Christmas any confusion is likely to be gone.
We have also been sent the stock circulate data reports for the wider collection which contain similar information to the HDC reports, and includes whether the item is on a reading list which has saved me loads of time. Helpfully the collections team have already split the reports into different dewey sequences and added my name to the ones that are “mine”.
I’m not much of book hoarder at work, I am all for discarding unused stock; this is probably because of the subjects I have worked with (mainly health, law and business), I understand some humanities subject need to keep more stock. But my general rule of thumb is “get rid”. It’s remarkable how little texts get borrowed if they are deemed to be “too old looking” or “tatty” but I guess it is the academic equivalent of getting your PE kit out of the lost and found box at school! You always go for the nicer looking stuff!
I have been going through my lists and highlighting (colours are so helpful for me when using huge spreadsheets) the stock that hasn’t been borrowed for 5 years, and then distinguishing (in a different colour, obvs!) which of these are still on reading lists. Luckily it isn’t that many so I haven’t got LOADS to go through but it is also giving me the chance to look at the recently used stock and easily identify the popular items so I can check for newer editions/e-books.
During the process I have been going to the shelves and ACTUALLY TOUCHING THE BOOKS (10 librarian-ing points awarded) just to evaluate the condition, to check if any of the really unused ones are actually still there (unfortunately some have been liberated) and generally get familiar with the collection locations. Yes, we use Dewey but the floors are laid out differently and my brain is still struggling with this.
Of course, it’s not just the book collection that needs to be reviewed. Spring time has brought with it the joys of journal renewals. [Eventhough it’s not books it is still deemed a “proper librarian” job – thanks to the fiancé for confirming that!]
The collections team have sent through the reports with the statistics and figures that I need to consider. It’s even colour coded which works very well with my brain. This year they have introduced a “priority ranking” column which we have to fill in using the following scale: 1 (vital to course) – 3 (nice to have). Apart from a few obvious ones (e.g. BMJ) it has been a bit more difficult for me to identify to what degree something is crucial (being new-ish and all) so I decided to do a little bit of analysis:
- Check if the item is on a reading list
- If it is on lots of reading lists we definitely need it
- If it is on one or a few could we replace it with inter library loans?
- It is still quite interesting that some lecturers don’t know/ have forgotten that we can provide this service.
- Not on reading lists – do we need it? Is it core to one of the staff research groups/projects?
- Research unfamiliar publications
- Are they well known/used in the subject area?
- Ask colleagues for advice – this was particularly helpful when looking into print only titles
- Are they required by an awarding/associate professional body?
- Is similar information available elsewhere?
- Discuss titles with lecturers, afterall they know more about course content. They do not always want to keep everything either!
This year I have not identfied any that could be cancelled (without causing significant problems for departments) but there are a couple that have lower usage than I would expect. I will be discussing these with the relevant academics.
What I have noticed since starting at LBU, is that there are a few really engaged lecturers who are keen on making sure that not only does the library have the best resources for their students and research, but also that the usage is high. Their awareness that the budget needs to be spent efficiently and that the collection has to be excellent value for money makes potentially awkward “we might have to cancel this is usage doesn’t pick up” conversations a lot easier.
Evaluative exercises such as these are so important, not only to help with resource usage but to help review the collection to make sure it is working for our users and it ultimately the best use of funds.