I have always been mildly fascinated by the simple ability to see what people really like. I love the macro and the micro–everything from looking at bestseller lists to celebrity playlists on iTunes.
So when I was asked to help out on a weeding project at the library I volunteer at, tasked with gathering circulation stats on the library’s collection, I was actually quite excited. I have been continuously surprised by these numbers, and as I look at the books, I wonder why the numbers skew the way they do. The 80/20 rule–the generalization that about 20 percent of the books in a collection will account for about 80 percent of the circulation–really does come out when looking at our collection.
On my third or fourth session working on the project, I came across my first books that were marked as donations to the library. In all that day, there were three of these books, and of those three, two of them had never circulated. I found this positively shocking! Now, it’s not unheard of for a book to never circulate–I have indeed come across a few of these poor forgotten souls. But they are are rarities, and to have two of these three suffer this fate seemed conspicuous. So I began to think about why this might have happened, and while my conclusion might not be completely accurate (yes, it could just be a coincidence), I cannot help but to feel I’ve hit on something.
Perhaps, despite these donors’ very gracious generosity, they have taken on a job that is not theirs. In library school, we constantly talk about the necessity of knowing our community’s wants and needs. That and the ability to properly cater to these needs, is the true job of a librarian. In my collection management course, we even touched on the idea of outsourcing collection development, an idea that seems so potentially damaging. If you are literally not in touch with the community you are trying to serve, this seems like a recipe for disaster. As possibly illustrated by these poor uncirculated books, the selection and maintenance of a collection can only be successful with careful attention and dedication to the community of users and potential users.