RE: [NGC4LIB] CSU library finds 40% of collection hasn’t circulated

Posting to NGC4LIB

Tim Spalding wrote:

When I was at Michigan someone at the library decided that since the dozens of volumes of the Supplementum epigraphicum graecum (SEG) hadn’t been checked out in decades, they should be sent to inconvenient offsite storage. In fact, the SEG is a key resource for classics scholars and students, not to mention the papyrologists. Presumably it hadn’t been had checked out because the volumes weren’t much good singly, the whole set weighed 100 pounds, and nobody realized or had the impudence to appropriate an obvious communal resource.

After a blistering complaint from one of my professors, it was returned from storage and put on building-use only, where it remains today.

Why not ask the scholars? I bet you not a one will advocate for the removal of large amounts of research material to make room for more study spaces.

These sorts of decisions (annexing, deaccessioning) can be made in various ways, depending on what you are aiming for. Here is a similar story at Kent State: They need to move 50 percent(!) of the books, so they are moving materials that have never been checked out. Incidentally, the example given there of a book Margaret Warner Morley’s “A Song of Life,” (2 copies) is in the Internet Archive where there are 4 copies.

Also, the article says: “It’s common for university libraries to reduce their collections, Salem said. A library the size of Kent routinely withdraws 75,000 to 100,000 items a year, Bracken said.”

Those numbers seem high to me, but if you are committed to moving out books: in this instance, 50% of everything, it’s clearly impossible to do it on a case-by-case basis. In the Kent State example, “The university plans to reduce the 2.9 million volume collection at a rate of 5 percent per year over the next decade…” According to my very poor math, that comes to 145,000 volumes a year. Something on this scale can only be done ruthlessly in batches. Otherwise it can never be even attempted and is doomed to failure. Serials are normally the first to go because you “get the most bang for the buck”.

Also, when you ask the scholars, it’s normally not very helpful. The main answer is: move the othor guy’s books wherever you want, but don’t touch a single one of mine!!!! Scholars are normally not very amenable to change.

It reminds me of a joke that John Fleming (one of the venerable scholars of Princeton University) once related at a meeting, “How many faculty members does it take to change a lightbulb?


In reality, this is one of those tedious and thankless tasks that can only result in making everyone more or less angry and makes no one really happy. It is similar to determining a “core list” of serial titles, where some people’s wishes and needs cannot and will not be met, so they make the blistering attacks on the library and librarians when the simple fact is that you cannot make everyone happy.

At the same time in a huge project such as this, mistakes will occur, as you point out, and the library must be amenable to bringing back *some* books, but not all.

As I said, this is the sort of task that can only make people more or less angry, and nobody happy. I feel for all those involved. The only option is to keep everything the way it has always been, and obviously, that is becoming less and less of an option today.



One Comment

  1. Amy Ranger said:

    As you put it, annexing and deaccessioning is a thankless task, but the annexing part can be easier if the catalog record for each item is complete. I was able to add 505 notes to several foreign-language texts so that users would know which volume in storage had the short story by Dostoyevsky or Cervantes (etc.). If the catalog record is a bare minimum, well, the chances of the book ever

    October 6, 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *