The library receives questions from time to time about how it manages its collections. Sometimes people say the shelves are too tall, devoid of book covers facing out, and otherwise hard to browse. Other comments center on wanting the library to keep every book it has ever owned for all time. We welcome this discussion. Both types of questions offer an opportunity for us to share some of the “science” that’s in library science.
Boston Public Library adds 11,000 books, CDs, and DVDs to its circulating collection each month. This is an average monthly figure yielding approximately 132,000 new items available for borrowing each calendar year. And those figures do not even take into account our digital library of e-books, digital magazines, and streaming content. Making new materials available is a part of a library’s everyday operations. Many of the new titles Boston Public Library purchases are selected in direct response to user requests. These requests are received through the library’s popular “Suggest a Purchase” web page as well as through conversations with library staff members.
Be sure to read More Collections Questions Answered, the second installment in this ongoing conversation.
Alongside the continuous adding of new materials, libraries also regularly evaluate which materials should be removed from the open shelves. There are many reasons an item might qualify for this, including having out-of-date information; being worn, torn, or damaged; no longer responding to readers’ needs or interests or being part of large group of duplicates. In Boston, with so many new items flowing through the system each year, collection management is an everyday, year-round service that librarians provide.
If you are an active user of the library, you know that we went through a major technology upgrade for what’s known in the library profession as an integrated library system or ILS. That new system went into place at the end of 2012 (read about it here). One of the many benefits of this new system is that it has made it possible for the library to more accurately reflect in our catalog what is on the shelves and available to borrow. Part of the work we’re doing now in all our locations is making sure that what our databases says we have is, in fact, there. And if it is not, we are removing the record from our files. In many cases, the record outlasts the physical item, as is the case in the 180,000 records — not volumes or actual books — we are analyzing . By the end of the year, we hope to have a much more accurate listing of our circulating items.
When we do remove books from circulation, they are first offered to local library friends groups for their book sales. If you have enjoyed a sale in Copley Square hosted by the City-Wide Friends or one at a neighborhood branch, you have seen this process in action. Next, the books are sent to one of the library’s partners-in-residence, the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library whose mission is to digitize all published information for storage and digitization. Books that the Internet Archive does not select are then sent through a third-party company to a variety of retail outlets to be sold. Proceeds from these sales are returned to Boston Public Library’s collections budget and used for library collections. Any books not sold or in poor condition at the end of this process are recycled.
Each location in the Boston Public Library system shares its circulating materials with every other location. A library cardholder can request a book to be delivered to any branch of their choosing, whether it is near home or work. And beyond books on the shelves, all of the library’s collections — ranging from databases to vintage photos to manuscripts — are available to all, as are thousands of free author talks, story times, exhibitions, classes, concerts, and much more. Libraries are community gathering places, places of lifelong learning, discovery, and fun.
To learn even more about how the library manages its collections, download this PDF version of our collection development policy.