Friday, September 12, 2014

Just Thinking About Collections

As a new youth services hire at my library, and as a person who will be doing a lot of selection and management for the youth collections, I've been thinking a lot about the youth services space and the materials contained within. I'm trying to acclimate myself to the layout of the space so that, when I'm working the youth services desk, I can actually help customers find the materials they're looking for. I'm also trying to get a good grasp of the types of things offered in the collections; this context is a major means to understanding my collection development responsibilities.

As I've been exploring the stacks, searching the catalog, and talking with colleagues, I've been asking myself a bunch of questions. And then, somewhere in the middle of asking myself these questions about a collection and space that is new to me, I realized that I probably should have been asking myself these questions, and asking them regularly, at my last library job. Which leads me to sharing my questions here on the blog, in case the nudge to think about your collections is something you might need right now.

Here are the three sets of questions I've been asking myself and my colleagues (many times per day, and about many parts of the collections):

1. Why is the room layout the way it is? What's the reasoning behind having certain materials where they currently are?
As I've asked myself this question, I've encountered a range of responses--all of them legitimate, and some of them indicative that, perhaps, adjustments could help better utilize space or freshen things up. As a hypothetical example, consider a youth services room in which easy readers are in location X. Are they in X because they're a high-demand item and X is a high-traffic area? Or are they in X because they've always been in X? The former scenario might indicate a good location for these, and possibly other, high-demand materials. The latter scenario, however--the "because it's always been done this way" scenario--that's the moment to make a mental note that it would be possible to adjust this section.

2. What are the highly-used collections in the department? What about the least-used?
When it comes to determining what's highly-used, I like to combine both anecdotal evidence from staff as well as circulation data from the ILS. Both types of data are valuable for thinking about how collections are being used. It's probably in the library's best interests to make all of these high-use items as easily accessible as possible, since so many folks are utilizing them. As for those least-used items, learning what they are helps me recognize a) an area where I may not need to spend as much money, if it's a dying collection; or b) an area where I need to invest more time in selection and weeding to freshen things up. Either way, those least-used pockets of the collection deserve a mental note as places with potential--whether that's potential for improvement or change can be determined later.

3. What's the weeding strategy?
Honestly, I think this is a HUGE question, even for those who consider themselves expert weeders. If there isn't a formal system or strategy, consider ways to implement one that would create positive benefits to the collection. And if there is a system, think it through and evaluate: Is it accomplishing its goals? Where might it be tweaked, improved, or better systematized? Weeding strategies are vital to the health of any good collection, just like pruning plants, and I think this is the question that needs to be considered most frequently.

Asking these questions has given me a lot of context for think about our space, collections, and how I can help manage them. And thoughtfully considering the range of answers to the questions has given me tons of fodder for thinking about how to progress in the space and collections.

I'll be adding a recurring event to my calendar in order to prompt myself to consider these questions every few months. Not only will coming back to these questions help me understand the snapshot of where our collections are at that moment in time, but they'll help me more successfully plan for the future of serving our customers as well.

*Please sing the title of this post to the tune of "Tomorrow" from Annie

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