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Long time passing, long time gone, due in four weeks

A Library Question for those Gentle Librarians amongst us, and I’d love further answers if y’all pass it along.

I just asked our Database Guy for a report: for all the books currently checked out, give me the most recent date it previously circulated. The Database Guy conceded that the information was in the system, but would be tricky to get out. I trust the guy on this—there are far more obvious reports that took a very long time to set up, and it still isn’t possible to suppress the record for one volume of a multi-volume set in the catalogue—so that’s not the question. The question is… well, it’s a three-part question. Does this (A) seem like useful information to have, and (2) seem like something close to a report you already have and use, and (iii) seem like I am asking for the right information in the report to find out what I want to know?

OK, the last one requires context. We are expecting to go through a major cull of our open stacks soon, either moving off-site or withdrawing 40% of the books. It seems that people who don’t work in a library think that the cull should largely consist of getting rid of books that don’t circulate, for a variety of definitions of circulating. Which, of course, makes sense: if nobody uses a book, why have it? Or certainly why have it on-site. The thing is that those of us at the circulation desk see stuff with a last date-due stamp of APR 21 1995 or NOV 3 2008 go out all the time.

All the time! What does all the time mean? I have no idea! And then—most of the books that go out circulate a lot, but what does a lot mean? I have no idea! Are the patterns different for books in D (History) and L (Education)? I don’t know!

So while mostly this is idle curiosity (is the thing I believe I am experiencing actually happening) and recalcitrant anti-culling (30% of the books currently out had sat on the shelves for eighteen months or more before somebody wanted them and WAS ABLE TO FIND THEM), it also seems like potentially useful in curating a collection carefully, since in fact weeding is an essential part of the job. And one thing that being a baseball fan has taught me is that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation data is more accurate than experience.

Does this all make sense? Is there something else I should be looking at? Or is this something that all the other libraries already do?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

A. Yes, this seems like useful information to have.
2. I have no idea if this is something our ILS could generate, since I have next to nothing to do with the inner workings of said ILS.*
iii. Yes, I think the information that you're asking for is precisely what you would want to know to address the concerns that you outline below in your post.

To elaborate: Yes, there are many models for what to weed and how to weed, but the one thing there isn't is a one-size-fits-all formula for what should stay and what should go -- as you identify in your distinction between the D's and the L's (and, bog help you, the HV's and HQ's). It also depends a lot on your specific library and its mission, and on the particular characteristics of the departments and programs it serves.

So, while a report that analyzes time-since-last-checkout for the whole collection will certainly be interesting, what you'll probably want to do when it comes to deciding what will stay and what will go, is, come up with different criteria for different call number ranges, based on the needs and characteristics of the departments and programs they serve.

I wish I could elaborate further, but aftercare pickup is imminent. More later, perhaps?

*And a darned good thing that is, too, as if I had any level of access to the damned thing I'd've gone Office Space on it a half dozen times just in the last week. Ahem.


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