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Where Angels Fear to Tread: Devising a Lean and Mean Reference Collection

October 15, 2007

Where Angels Fear to Tread: Devising a Lean and Mean Reference Collection
Gumberg Library, Reference Dept., Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA
Allison Brungard & Sandra Collins

What to do about the print reference collection? Considerable maintenance, not much usage. How they went about it, what was involved. Not how we done it good, but ‘don’t do what I did.’ Criteria: Currency, significance, and relevance.

Sandy spoke first. Budgetary considerations were a large part of it. Reference is prime real estate; library wanted an information commons. Collection had not been weeded for a time. Has been a reorientation to how to do reference; standard reference works like Sheehey and Katz are simply not being used, even by reference librarians. Are the materials timely? Do we even know what’s there, if it’s outside of our subject specialty?

Another question they asked was whether more of the reference collection should circulate. Probably, since librarians aren’t really using much of the collection. Avoid like the plague Internet guides — out of date once they’re published. Bibliographies in the Zs should be in the subject areas. Obsolete formats — why get phone books, CIA Fact Book, when available online.

How did they do this? First began by updating Reference Collection Development Policy to reflect new priorities. Collection has outgrown the space, and they needed to deselect (not ‘weed’). Does the item deserve to be in Reference? If not, then where does it belong? Needed to create a consensus among reference librarians and went to liaison librarians (bibliographers). Took about 4 months to this point.

Wanted to keep process relatively simple, a few basic questions/priorities. Don’t tell me what was done in past; does it belong in this collection? The process for weeding Reference was a pilot for weeding the entire collection.

How was the weeding actually done? Allison spoke to this. They wanted a lasting record of how the process was done. They started with 9400 records (not individual titles), imported 6800 records into an Access db of all Reference titles. Assigned different librarians different LC call number ranges. Had to be able to share the db to work on it; on a shared server.

Only decisions that could be made about a title:
1) Keep in Reference
2) Move to stacks
3) Withdraw completely

Had to allow for some flexibility; set a terminal date for decision making. In hindsight, should have had a field for over sized; did hold them up a bit.

Positives (‘Blessings’):
-taking ownership of a large, multi-departmental project
-increased confidence that you can go over to the shelves and pull something that would be worthwhile
-did provide a blueprint for weeding rest of collection

Negatives (‘Curses’)
-too many stakeholders means that the project can get bogged down
-some who feel slighted by project can create discord; internal politics
-some will want more or different choices than those offered by the project parameters; some people can’t make a decision (notes field was kept purposely small)

Had to take into consideration the human element; had to work with folks to help them make decisions. Had to get them to focus on whether or not the book belonged in the collection; not questioning relative worth of book, just its relevance to the Ref collection.

Project is still ongoing. Continue to add new books to database. Updating the collection now involves pricing print vs. electronic. If electronic, then becomes an Electronic Resources Committee decision. Bought the Gale Philosophy, Religion, and Literature Center, but is still librarian-directed.

-Communicate expectations; have participants try out the process and report back by a specified deadline
-Get organizational buy-in
-Clarify decision-making authority; who has responsibility
-Set solid deadlines but have a back-up plan
-Limit the number of decision makers

One year later…
-Kept 35% of Reference books; withdrew 10% of materials, rest (55%) went to general collection
-Have more room for tables
-Most books not yet moved; backlog in tech services
-First electronic purchases on the horizon: Narrowed choices to Gale & Oxford collections

Q & A
Was usage tracked? No, hadn’t done that. Would have been helpful. Did ask, “Have you ever had a question about that?” as criteria. One library made tick marks on inside of cover when used book for a transaction. One library tracks usage in library instruction. Is this really use if users aren’t using.


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