Keeping Our Libraries Vibrant and Relevant

How do libraries decide what to keep and what to ... not keep? Very carefully.

In every library I’ve ever worked, and in numerous others throughout the country, rumors have circulated at some point that the library is “throwing books away.”  A comment posted on my last expressed concerned that “one of the first things the library did after Measure A passed was discard all books that hadn't been checked out in 2 years, regardless of quality…with no input from the public.”

As a check of the MARINet catalog or a browse of the Library shelves will reassure you, the Library has not discarded all books older than 2 years.  But are we “throwing books away?” 

What the Library does is review its materials on a regular basis.  Is the information accurate?  Is it up to date?  Has anyone read this book in the past 5 years?  This analysis allows library staff to make sure that legal or medical information is accurate, and that travel guides have the latest information.  If a book is no longer accurate, we look for a newer book to purchase on that same subject.

As much as library users love books, they can be hard on them.  Books are only made of paper: a coffee spill, a trip to the beach, or simply scores of hands can render a book grubby and unappealing.  Nobody wants to check out a DVD or CD that has too many skips, and we don’t want the reputation of having a collection of tattered books and DVDs that don’t play.  For popular titles, we buy replacement copies. 

Then there are books that are no longer popular, for whatever reason.  We frequently buy multiple copies of titles that are in demand by our patrons. When the demand drops off we will have more copies than we need to meet ongoing demand, and some of those copies will be considered for removal from the collection.

Because any library has a limited amount of storage space, there is a finite number of books and other materials that a library can have.  In order to continue meeting the needs of our community, we continue to provide the newest best-sellers, medical, legal and how-to books.  And to make room for the new items on our shelves, we need to remove older ones.  Libraries are not warehouses for books; they are vital, living parts of their communities and must adapt to changing needs.

Some people may argue that a library shouldn’t focus exclusively on “popular” materials.  As part of our Strategic Planning process we asked a number of groups what “library” means to them.  Our library users want books (including e-books, books on CD and DVDs) that are pertinent to their lives.  Popular in this case does not only mean “best sellers” but embraces the entire range of materials, including fiction for all ages, do-it-yourself guides, documentaries, philosophy and poetry that our educated readers demand.  Our collection development policy specifically states that we “nurture young readers and lifelong learning” and one way we do that is by making sure that we have copies of the classics available. 

Rather than trying to own everything, we rely on our consortium of MARINet libraries (which now includes Domincan University), and share materials with all Marin county patrons.  Just recently we joined the LINK+ consortium, which gives our cardholderss access to more than 10 million volumes from California and Nevada. 

So what do we do with all those old, outdated, unloved, and damaged items?  Many of them go to our local book sale, and many more are sold at a non-profit in Novato that supports Marin County Free Library with its sale of used items.

I became a librarian because I love books, and because I love helping connect other book-lovers with materials they need and enjoy.  To continue as vibrant and relevant centers of community learning, our libraries must be flexible, changing and growing to meet the demands of all our users.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Naomi Klein August 30, 2012 at 12:58 AM
Thanks for your reply - when I expressed concerns in your last post you indicated "see my next blog for responses to the issues you raise!" Sadly, this reply doesn't address many of these concerns regarding the library's failure to solicit public input on library remodels, and the new service model. Instead, you have focused on the removal of library materials. As you indicate in this post, librarians regularly review collections and update outdated material, etc. In many ways it is simple logic - of course there is not enough room to save everything - new books come in, old books come out. I am sure the librarians in Marin regularly review the library collections. What happened two years ago, however, was different. The administrators of the library ordered their staff to remove everything that had not checked out in two years - thousands of books (didn't they IJ report it was at least 18,000 books?). Since librarians regularly review their collections, how many of these titles had they elected to retain before being ordered to remove them? And was the public ever informed of this decision to switch to popular collections? No, it was not. These books were also not sent to the Book Place, they were shipped out to an out-of-state company called B-logisitcs.
Naomi Klein August 30, 2012 at 01:11 AM
The library could have told the public what is was doing, they could have even offered these books to the public for free (after all, we paid for them with our tax dollars) and used it as an opportunity to let us know about their switch to popular materials. Instead, this was all done in secrecy, and the public only knew about it because the IJ reported on it. So, once again, I ask - why isn't the public being informed or asked to participate on what is happening in the library? You mention a strategic planning process and asking "groups" what the library means to them, but were they specifically asked about what you are doing now? The San Rafael Library recently offered a survey to the public about what it wants to see in the future - would you consider something similar?
Margaret, Fairfax Branch Librarian August 30, 2012 at 08:09 PM
Naomi: thanks for your comments. You have raised a number of issues, each one deserving of a detailed explanation. I invite you to give me a call at the Fairfax Library (415-453-8151) so we can schedule a meeting to discuss your concerns. -- Margaret
Naomi Klein August 31, 2012 at 01:42 AM
Thanks again, Margaret, for your reply to my concerns. However, in turn I would invite you to share any responses to these issues online, so that all may be informed about what is happening in the library. As you are well aware, we are a community that is very passionate about our libraries. No more secrets, please.
Margaret, Fairfax Branch Librarian September 04, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I completely agree with you that all library dealings should be transparent, and Marin County Free Library uses a multitude of ways to communicate with the public: press releases, blogs, and our website, www.marinlibrary.org. Because the topics of my next few blogs have already been determined, I won't be using this forum to address specific questions. If you would like your questions answered, I encourage you to contact me. Thanks again for your interest in MCFL!
Ed September 07, 2012 at 01:20 AM
I've been following this thread, but I discovered it through the library's Facebook page, and when I went back to read it again, I saw that it was gone. Did the library remove the link to this post on its Facebook page? If it did, how does that support the notion of all library dealings being transparent? I am a frequent user of the library and find it interesting that the library is pursuing a new service model, but doesn't seem to want to talk about it. I did check the library website for press releases and looked at the blogs on the site but nothing seemed to answer the questions.
Margaret, Fairfax Branch Librarian September 07, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Hi Ed, I just checked MCFL Facebook page, and the link to this blog is still there -- it was posted on August 24. Here is the link to information about the remodel, which has a place for you to leave input and questions about the remodel concepts: http://marinlibrary.org/about-the-library/measure-a. Thanks for your interest in Marin County Free Library!


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