Out in the Elma Timberland Library today. It’s been a cold, sunny day. I read an article about the branch supervisor recently fired from a library for the creation of a false patron record, using it to keep items in the collection that hadn’t circulated. I don’t know the details of the case. What interests me is the question at the base of the discussion—whether or not items should be kept that don’t circulate.
Libraries Are Finite
Libraries, like the TARDIS, are bigger on the inside. They contain universes, worlds, and uncounted people—both physical and those contained in the pages of books. What people forget is that information, whatever its form, takes space. A book is one way to encode information. It’s analog and physical on a macro scale that we understand. We can pick it up and weigh it in our hands. A file is another way, digital and measured in microns, but nonetheless still physical. For all we talk about the cloud, it exists on massive collections of servers taking up physical space. The devices used to access the cloud also take space. Regardless of format, it takes space to store information.
Given this essential fact of reality, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that your neighborhood library will not contain all information that exists. It will contain more than it used to hold, thanks to the Internet and digital collections. Librarians still need to balance spaces for physical people who want to use the library, and spaces to hold the books on the shelves. They take up more space than the e-books but use less electricity.
Here’s the hard question: once the shelves are at capacity, how do you add more items?
Say that your local library has room on its shelves for about 7,000 items. (The collection is more like 8,000 items, with around 13% checked out at any given time). According to Bowker, about 300,000 traditional titles are published each year! Your local library doesn’t have room (or the budget) to buy more than a fraction of those titles. Let’s say that your library budgets $20,000 for new purchases, and is able to manage around 1,000 new titles each year.
The collection can’t exceed 8,000 items—you don’t have space for more items and a larger library isn’t in the cards. What do you do? The math ends up being pretty simple. If you buy a book, another book must go to make room for the new book.
You can offset some of this by buying replacement copies for books lost or worn out. People will also want the latest book by [insert popular author], so that’ll take another chunk of books. Let’s suppose that the first 200 books are easy decisions.
You’ve also received a bunch of requests for other titles, and because you receive publisher catalogs, review copies, and read industry reviews, you learn about titles you know people will want before they’re even aware the book is coming out. You can save some more space by shifting part of your budget to e-books. That makes some (not all) people happy even though you’re basically building a second collection that often overlaps your collection in the library.
With all of that, you still end up with 500 new books to fit on the shelves. On average you fit about 25 books on a shelf, meaning you need to free up 20 shelves of space! With 5 shelves in each section, that’s equal to a whole aisle of space in the library (of course the books aren’t all in one section).
The only way to make them fit is to pull essentially 500 books from the shelves after you’ve already dealt with the easy ones. Now you have to do further evaluation. How about replacing outdated titles like that Windows XP book? That gets a few more. What about books that no one wants to read? You might love the book, think it is great, but when you try to interest people in it, they pass and pick something else. Maybe it was an over-hyped title that no one finished reading two years ago. Or it sounded like something that people would enjoy, only they didn’t. It could also be a classic that no one ever asks to read—not even your dedicated book club.
As painful as you might find it, you have to make room for those 500 newer books. You’ll try to rehome the discard titles. Maybe the Friends of the Library can sell them to raise money for the library. Or you could try one of those outfits that sells library discards online, giving the library a cut.
This process never ends. It goes on each day as new titles arrive and other titles have to make room for the incoming books.
According to reports, the false account was used to check out items in order to register a ‘circulation’ of the titles so that they wouldn’t show on a report and get pulled to make room for other books. Supposedly the titles needed to be kept on the off chance that someone might request the book in the future, and then the library would have to purchase a copy. Apparently, they never heard of interlibrary loan.
See, your library may only have room for 8,000 items in the collection. Another library system might have a million items! They have the same process, but more room means more titles. There are also libraries with a different focus than a public library. So when someone requests a book that your library doesn’t have, you ask other libraries to lend it to you. And often they do because they’ll ask the same favor later.
Library space is finite. You can’t keep every item on the off chance that maybe, someday, someone might want that item. That doesn’t mean that another library won’t have it.
And if you find that you’re creating false records, complete with false identification, you may want to stop and think carefully about what you’re doing. After all, you can’t force people to read what you want, just because you think it’s something they should like. Working in a library, we should carry items people want—they’re the ones paying for the items!
People want remakes, sequels, prequels, reboots, and retellings of familiar stories. We want universes and crossovers. The reason? Because all of these forms promise a similar experience. Sure, we want them to be good (a matter of personal taste). This is why series—and flavors of ice cream—remain popular. We’re looking for that experience. If I still ate dairy, I’d love to have more Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk. If they came out with a similar flavor, maybe something dark chocolate with dried apricots or cherries, and almonds, I’d be very interested. I’d also be interested if they came out with a soy/coconut/other nut milk frozen dessert version of New York Super Fudge Chunk because I’d be looking for a similar experience.
Which is all to the point of a couple new trailers posted today. Enjoy.
Creepy Ring kid is back in Rings, updated off of VHS to email attachments you shouldn’t open. Much like any attachment promising your favorite celebrity in the nude.
Chucky returns in a teaser of shots from previous films, with an overlay of text promising the terror, thrills, etc., of previous films. In other words, the experience. The quality of the franchise has varied a bit, though I found the last installment Curse of Chucky to be one of my favorites. It does mean that folks who bought the Chucky: The Complete Collection won’t have a complete collection any longer. Brad Dourif remains a high point of the series created by Don Mancini. Of course, the latest also starred Fiona Dourif.