Monday, February 11, 2013

The Cost of Keeping Books on the Shelves

This was the subject line of a series of emails in my Inbox Saturday morning. A librarian in the Boston area was using the CCCU Librarian email list to ask for help finding an article that was referenced at last summer's Snezek Library Leadership Institute. The article my colleague was looking for was actually an analytic called, "On the Cost of Keeping a Book,"[1] in a collection of reports.

I had not attended the Institute but out of curiosity, I looked it up. In their report, the authors calculated the annual cost for keeping each volume held on library shelving. They took into consideration the prime real estate value that the library facility usually takes in the center of campus and the cost of maintenance and utilities. They divided the operating costs by the number of books in the collection to come up with a per volume cost of about $4.50 per year. The point is that print books (pBooks) are expensive to keep and library collections should be routinely and carefully weeded (deselected/withdrawn) so as not to waste valuable space on underused resources.

Coincidentally, on the previous Friday I had attended my first SCELC Board Meeting and on the agenda was a resource sharing initiative which would involve weeding books from our collections and relying more heavily on other libraries in the consortium to supply books that we don't hold locally. One library plans to weed 40% of their collection to make space. Their idea is to redistribute these books among other libraries in our consortium that may have more space. They would still be available for check out but there would be a waiting period while they are shuttled to the borrowing library.

The Darling Library’s print collection has not grown significantly in the past ten years. This is partially because, with the help of key faculty members, we have aggressively weeded outdated and unused books from the Biblical Studies, History, Math, and Science subject areas. Weeding is a healthy practice that encourages circulation. (It should be noted that our eBooks now outnumber our pBooks.)

So far we’ve only discussed what we should do with the books we already have but a more cooperative approach to collection development will certainly affect future purchasing decisions. Resource sharing is good stewardship but it can also be complicated by our unique institutional missions.

This level of cooperation would be a fundamental shift from the principles of the traditional interlibrary loan service through which participating libraries lend and borrow books on behalf of our patrons. The understanding has always been that each library is to provide adequately for its own patrons. Borrowing too heavily would be an abuse of the system. After all, it would not be fair to depend on the funding resources of other libraries to supply books to our patrons. This new cooperation will challenge the old sensibilities.

Ten years ago, who would have thought that the cost of keeping print books on the shelves would be a topic of concern?

[1] Courant, Paul N. and Mathew "Buzzy" Nielson. "On the Cost of Keeping a Book," IN The Idea of Order: Transforming Research Collections for the 21st Century, p. 91. Council of Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Publication, June 2010. 1472010

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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