Strategic Planning

The BPL Compass

More Collections Questions Answered

by Gina Perille

Cover of BPL's strategic planAdding new books to a library’s collection and removing others is standard operating procedure for libraries around the world. This is an important and essential service that librarians offer to the communities they serve every day. The Boston Public Library system, on average, adds 11,000 new items to its circulating collection every month. That’s 132,000 new items each year that cardholders can check out and take home. There is not infinite shelf space in our locations; continuous evaluation of what is on the shelves is required. Again, this is a core piece of what librarians do, and Boston Public Library stands behind our professionally trained staff and their ability to perform this sort of evaluation.

Be sure to also read Collections Questions Answered, the first installment in this ongoing conversation.

What is taking place this year — and what seems to be the subject of wide interest and, unfortunately, wide misinformation —  is that each of our 24 neighborhood branches is getting a list of records for books that have not circulated in 3, 4, or 5 years, depending on the number of shelves the branch has. Colleagues are being asked: does this record have a corresponding book on your shelves? Is it there? Is it damaged? Is there more than one copy? If it is a travel book or computer software book or test prep book, for example, do you have a 2008 version alongside the 2014 version? If yes, please remove the 2008 version. Neighborhood librarians are being asked to evaluate their shelves. This is essential and ongoing librarian work. Even if a book is on the list to be evaluated and has not circulated in years, each librarian can say, because they know their local users best, that it should stay in the building.

Throughout all of this, there are also two very important things to keep in mind:

  1. 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.
  2. The records being evaluated across the system are limited only to “take-home” or “circulating” books, CDs, and DVDs. These are but a fraction of Boston Public Library’s deep, rich, and historic holdings and do not even take into account our digital library of e-books, digital magazines, and streaming content. In all, the library has upwards of 23 million items in its collections: maps, photographs, manuscripts, music scores, paintings, artifacts, sculptures, and much more.

The ongoing process of adding new circulating items and pulling out others is highlighted in Boston Public Library’s strategic plan, the BPL Compass, which was built on enormous community input in a multi-phase process from 2009 to 2011. We heard from the community, our staff, and even scholars that we needed to assess our collections. Under one of the eight community-identified principles for excellence in the plan, here’s what appears under Center of Knowledge: “Assess current circulating collections and develop plan for maximizing the use of existing collections through weeding and collection development.” That’s precisely the kind of work our teams do each day.

As always, we welcome questions, suggestions, and comments — that can be via this blog, via social media, via email, via surveys, across the desks at any of our locations, or another of the many ways we connect with our users each day.

Be sure to also read Collections Questions Answered, the first installment in this ongoing conversation.

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