Guest Column: Rockford Public Library addresses weeding, collection

By Emily Hartzog

With regard to recent misinformation circulating about the Rockford Public Library’s (RPL) collection development and collection weeding policies and practices, the Board of Trustees would like to present accurate statistics and data about both topics. While RPL encourages discourse about the evolving role of the library in the community, these discussions should be driven by facts.

Healthy library: Collection size, turnover rates and weeding

A community values a library for a variety of reasons, but perhaps most important is its collection. Several factors are taken into account when measuring the health of a public library collection including the size, turnover rates and overall relevance of materials to the community at large. Given recent interest in RPL’s collection and misinformation that has circulated regarding the weeding of the collection, here are some important facts about your Rockford Public Library.

FACT: The library’s physical collection has grown since 2010.

While much attention has been paid to the growth of the e-book collection in recent months, it is important to recognize that the library’s physical collection has grown as well. In 2010, Rockford Public Library had 580,787 items and in February of 2012, that number was 582,072. The physical collection had a net gain of 1,285 items. This does not include more than 12,000 purchased e-book titles now available to RPL customers.

FACT: Public libraries must weed their collections to maintain a healthy collection.

Studies of public libraries have shown that collection size alone does not predict overall circulation rates. Very often, libraries with smaller collections can enjoy extremely high circulation rates when they weed titles regularly to make room for current, popular and more relevant titles.

Collections are not static, and weeding should be an ongoing process to ensure public access to the most current materials and the best use of limited shelf space. In making weeding decisions, libraries often use the M.U.S.T.Y. criteria — is information Misleading or outdated, is an item Ugly or damaged, has the title been Superseded, does it have Trivial scholarly merit, and does it satisfy Your customers (has it circulated)? All of these questions help staff members weed the library’s collection based on the physical condition, accuracy, quality and relevance of materials.

RPL Policy 4.4 requires that “staff routinely examines the collection and removes materials which are no longer of value.”

FACT: A recent report of RPL’s collection showed more than 10,000 titles that have not circulated since May of 2004. While weeding is an ongoing process, even the most diligent of libraries will have titles that remain in the collection despite being grossly outdated, inaccurate or irrelevant to the community. A recent report showed 10,784 items currently in the RPL collection that have not circulated since May of 2004. Ideally, any item that has not circulated in the past three years should be evaluated for its continued relevance to the collection. Given this criteria, we would expect an even higher figure.

FACT: Rockford Public Library’s physical collection exceeds the national per capita average and is in line with the Illinois average.

According to an IMLS study released in October 2011, the national average for the per-capita size of a physical materials collection is 2.75. With a population of 152,871, Rockford would require a physical collection with 420,395 items. As of February 2012, RPL held 582,072 items — well above the national average. Illinois, which is ranked No. 16 among all 50 states and the District of Columbia for per-capita physical items, has an average of 3.85 items. Despite being well above the national figure, RPL’s collection is in line with the state average.

FACT: Rockford Public Library’s physical collection turnover rate (total circulation/items in the collection) is in line with the national average.

The national public library turnover rate is 2.6. Rockford Public Library’s physical collection turnover rate in 2011 was 2.67 (1,548,293 circulations/580,608 items in the collection). By weeding irrelevant and outdated information and replacing it with current, popular materials, we can improve that figure even more.

FACT: The final responsibility for collection development lies with the Director of the Library.

According to RPL’s policy 4.1, which was approved by the Board of Trustees in July 2005, “Final responsibility for collection development lies with the Director of the Library.” The director may appoint staff members to assist in the day-to-day decisions with regard to the collection, but ultimately, it is within the director’s role and responsibility to manage the collection as directly/indirectly as s/he sees fit. This may include selection, weeding, policy-setting and collection development philosophies.

FACT: The executive director personally weeded just 2 percent of the overall materials weeded from the collection in 2011.

In 2011, 48,234 items were weeded from Rockford Public Library’s collection (48,055 items were added to the collection in that same time frame). The Executive Director, Frank Novak, weeded 1,701 titles in categories for which he is uniquely qualified including legal and business/finance. Mr. Novak is the only RPL staff member who holds not only a Master of Library Science degree, but a Juris Doctorate (graduate degree in law) and professional experience in business and finance.

FACT: All weeded materials undergo a secondary review before being withdrawn from the library.

Items pulled from the collection by any staff member undergo a secondary peer review before being formally withdrawn from the collection. Even materials weeded personally by the executive director were reviewed by the manager of Collection Development (who also holds an MLIS degree) before being withdrawn.

FACT: The library makes every attempt to responsibly dispose of materials weeded from the collection.

Materials weeded from RPL’s collection are first sent to the Friends of Rockford Public Library, a separate 501(c)(3) organization that raises funds to support the library’s programs and services through book sales in shops at the Main and East Branch libraries, online and at semi-annual events. Any items that are not suitable for re-sale by the Friends or donation to other local charities are recycled appropriately.

FACT: A library does not want full shelves.

A full shelf is not an indicator of a healthy library collection. In fact, when items are popular and circulating regularly, they rarely sit on a library shelf. Ideally, when a library plans space to accommodate its full collection, it includes leaving around 25 percent of the shelf space open if it plans on maintaining the collection size. As materials circulate, the amount of open shelf space will fluctuate to even greater percentages.

For logistical reasons, it is important to have plenty of space on shelves to allow for easy paging of books, face-out presentation of titles (much like what bookstores do to highlight certain titles/authors), and convenient browsing of the titles available for customers. (Have you ever searched for a title among a shelf packed with books?) RPL avoids using the top and bottom-most shelves of our units, putting titles within convenient reach of all of our customers.

Rockford Public Library also uses a “floating collection” method of circulation. Items may be returned to the shelves of the branch where the item is returned or routed to another location versus items having permanent home locations. An empty shelf at one location does not mean resources are not available; it means they may be on shelves at other locations. Using our online catalog or helpful staff to browse the collection, identify where titles are currently available and place holds is the best way to determine what holdings the library has available.

Emily Hartzog is community relations officer at Rockford Public Library.

From the April 25-May 1, 2012, issue

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