24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Tag: in the news

Thoughts On: Floating Collections

I’m torn on my feelings about floating collections. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, a floating collection can only occur within a library system with multiple branches. Rather than each branch “owning” the books that “live” in their building, the books belong to the system as a whole. So, let’s say your library system does not have a floating collection, but does have multiple branches. One day, you pick up a book from the Dog Branch Library. When you’re finished, you have some errands near the Cat Branch Library, so you return it to the Cat Branch, who then has it delivered to the Dog Branch. With a floating collection, you may pick up a book from the Dog Branch and return it to the Cat Branch, but the Cat Branch keeps it. The books, rather than being anchored to a particular location, float among the various branches, hence the term.

Within the last year, the Arlington Public Library in Virginia switched some specific collections from static to floating. Children’s board books (you know, those chunky-paged things, usually for infants and toddlers?), DVDs, and audiobooks are already floating. The young adult collection will begin floating on May 1. Systematically, branches worked through those subcollections and stuck blank labels over the existing branch labels. As items with branch labels were checked in, staff members did the same. No longer did the board books, DVDs, or audiobooks live at any particular branch. The same will soon be true for (most of) the young adult items.

The benefit (or, the goal) of floating collections is to create greater variety. This is especially important for smaller branches. According to the public catalog, there are a little over 28,000 items available at the Aurora Hills Branch. (A quick note — Aurora Hills does not have the smallest collection by any stretch; I’m most frequently present at this branch so I’m using it as opposed to Plaza, which only has 2,557 items [and it is a special case in and of itself in that it’s not a traditional branch is primarily used as a place for patrons to pick up holds on their way to and from work as it’s located just above a Metro subway station. Though a few items do “live” at the Plaza Branch, my understanding is these are newer or really popular items and weeding* occurs more regularly there or items are shipped off to live at other branches actually permanently after a while.] or Glencarlyn or Cherrydale, both of which have smaller collections than does Aurora Hills. I’m also omitting the special Local History and eMaterial collections for obvious reasons — a scientific study this is not.)

Libraries, of course, have their regulars. This may not be more or especially true in smaller branches, but it’s often more apparent. Patrons who do visit regularly and are at the mercy of a static or non-floating collection are faced with the same old options to browse, unless they wander over to the new book collection (which, at Aurora Hills, includes materials up to a year old**) or happen upon the small percentage of items that have become too old to sit on the new shelf any longer and have migrated to the general collection. Due to a number of factors, including building size and the general interests of the specific customer base at any given branch, it’s not practical to buy one or more new copy of every book, just because one branch decides their collection needs it.*** So, with a static collection, if patrons are the kind of people who prefer to browse to look for something to read, especially in small libraries and especially if the patron prefers a specific genre (am I the only one who doesn’t understand the popularity of the mystery genre? It’s a mystery to me!****), their options will be limited.

But what about patrons who prefer to go in to a library knowing what they want to get? As someone with a lengthy to-be-read list, this is often my strategy. I’m also not someone who plans what I’m going to read ahead of finishing what I’m currently reading most of the time. As soon as I finish something, I pick out the next thing and dive right into that. Floating collections make this challenging. I can check the online catalog, of course, before I leave for the library to go pick it up. But if the book is currently living at a library that’s a bit distant, I only have the options of going to that distant library, putting it on hold and waiting two or three days for it to reach me, or going with something else. It’s not the greatest hardship in the world, but I can see how it might annoy patrons who prefer to go into a library with a plan of what to get rather than a plan to browse.

There’s also the issue of duplicate copies at branches. If an immediate community for a library has a particular interest in a certain topic, author, or book, the library in that community may end up with a fairly homogeneous collection. Of course, this means that the library is doing a great job of meeting the conscious needs and interests of their community, but it can be really limiting. If users like to browse, the browse-able options will be much smaller and the opportunity to grow in knowledge and reading interest shrinks. I can’t say how severe the possibility of this is — I certainly haven’t run any detailed research studies on this, but I do see it as a possible consequence of floating collections. In fact, there are libraries that disagree with me here (and I admit it’s entirely possible that they’re right — after all, they have more access to real time, real life statistics on this than I do at the moment). In their document detailing their decision to switch to a floating collection, the Fairfax County Public Library notes, “Browsing at individual branch collections is enhanced by increasing the availability and diversity of items available on the shelves for customers” as one of the benefits of floating collections. You can read the rest of that document here. It more succinctly articulates some of what I’m discussing and offers an alternative and much more solid opinion than what I’m giving here.

Another challenge I’ve seen with the floating collection, particularly when it comes to things in a series, and even more especially when it comes to TV show DVDs is having duplicates of the same season and none of other seasons. It’s not uncommon for a patron to checkout an entire TV show to binge watch (hey, Netflix adds up and the library is free!). So when a patron brings up seasons one and three of House and asks me where season two is, the best I can tell them is that they can put it on hold and maybe get it in a few days. Is it good enough to encourage customers to plan ahead and place holds on all of a TV series if they want to check out the whole set?

So, this is why I don’t have a strong opinion either way about floating collections — or, rather, I have strong opinions both ways and they create this neutral space between them like the center of a rope in tug-of-war. As some libraries adopt digital-only environments, this becomes a non-issue: the library and its collections are everywhere you (or your phone, desktop, tablet, eReader, what-have-you) are. Maybe the solution — though impractical, if I’m being honest — is to give each library branch a core collection (added to, slowly) with the old standards and especially popular new items with a larger floating collection.

Or maybe we’ll go with a more science fiction approach with drone deliveries of books from online browsing endeavors, eliminating the need to go to the library for the purpose of picking up books (though I’ll maintain that in-person reference services, programs, and other in-person offerings at libraries will necessitate the physical manifestation of the library). Who knows what the future will bring to us bibliophiles and browsing addicts.

Does your library have a floating collection? Do you wish it did? What are your feelings on floating collections? Partially floating collections? I want to hear from you.

*Weeding is the process of physically removing items from the collection and digitally removing them from the catalog. This usually occurs when an item has not circulated in some time, is out of date, or is damaged and the library does not intend to replace it.

**This may mean items that were published up to a year ago and the library purchased as they were released or it may mean items that had been published more than a year ago but are new to the library. It’s up to the discretion of the staff and/or the folks at HQ (in the case of Arlington Public Library, the staff at the Central Branch) — or a combination of the staffs of multiple branches.

***There are exceptions to this, particularly when it comes to highly anticipated books. When Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee was published (my personal feelings on the ethical issues surrounding the publication of the manuscript aside), Arlington Public Library ordered at least seventy-five print copies to be divided among the eight branches (though not evenly, as the demand at each branch would differ); this does not include large print copies, eBook copies, audiobook or eAudiobook renderings. Despite this huge number, the holds went on for months (and continue, now, though there are plenty of copies for individuals who are on hold — at the time of writing, nine people had requested the book: enough for each to have eight copies each! Though, at the moment, 124 people are on hold for the ten available eBooks and thirty-nine have requested the ten eAudiobook copies; interestingly, physical copies of both are immediately available for pickup, but it would appear these patrons either would prefer the digital copies or don’t realize the availability of the physical. But that’s a whole other topic.)

****No, I didn’t just say I don’t understand the popularity of mystery to make that joke. Yes, I absolutely took advantage of it anyway. Yes, I’ll see myself out now.

In the News: Public Awareness of Library Offerings

In a recent article reporting on Pew results regarding the public’s relationship with their public libraries, Sarah Hatoum emphasized the struggle for public libraries to make their users and potential users aware of what the library has to offer. This is something I’ve encountered at my two part-time circulation gigs. Patrons come in, check out books, maybe some DVDs, and they leave. On occasion, a sign will catch their eye — “The library offers ebooks?” they ask in shock. “You’re having a seminar on writing a novel?” They ask for a slip of paper to write down the name of the app or the date of the upcoming event. “I had no idea!” We finish their transaction, and they head out of the library, practically wiggling with excitement.6355083001_dc97ac66b8_o

There’s no question that the library is offering things of interest to the public. For patrons with lower incomes, the library allows access to things they may not otherwise have. Can’t make a case for Netflix in your budget? We have DVDs (and you may even get the next season sooner at the library than you would on Netflix). Don’t have an at-home computer? Boy, can we help you there. But, from my perspective, the low-income members of the community are already very much aware of what the library has to offer. It’s making the case to community members who don’t use the library out of necessity.

I have a confession: I was (and sometimes still am) one of those people. I don’t take out DVDs from the library because (a) I’m fortunate enough that I can justify spending extra for Netflix and (b) my laptop (another thing I’m very fortunate to have) doesn’t have a DVD drive, so even if I didn’t have Netflix, I wouldn’t have the means to watch anything from the library. In college, despite being an avid library use in high school and before that, I stopped going to the library. I had just about everything I needed on campus — programs, social opportunities, educational opportunities, and plenty of reading to do. I didn’t even use the university library, to be honest, even for the space. I went maybe five times when it wasn’t class-required.

Part of this was because I simply didn’t have the time. Part of this was because I felt the local public library didn’t have much to offer my age group. Part of this was probably for a lack of effective advertising.

I am well aware that libraries do their best to advertise. It’s challenging to meet all types of groups in their advertising prime spot without breaking the bank. A lot of advertising takes place at the library or on the library website, but this is only good if you’re already using the library.

In my senior year of college, I started going to the public library with slightly greater frequency. I had the means to get there (a car) and had come into a bit of advertising that worked really well. The library came to my school, set up a table in the dining hall, and signed us up for library cards. Not everyone got a card, of course, but I walked away with mine and a sense of what the library had to offer. Setting up booths at various events and locations — colleges, high schools, local fairs, elections, and other public events — is a great alternative to flyers (which, let’s be real, no one reads). Once they’re in your library, you can wallpaper your walls with flyers if you like. Getting them in there is the key.

We did something similar at the special library I work at. Bringing our patrons to us, we held an open house, which we advertised through emails, email signatures, attachments to routed newspapers, table tents in the break room, and word of mouth. We had nearly one-half of the agency attend the open house (with the bribe of doughnuts, coffee, and the chance to win prizes). Each library staff member had a station. If attendees visited a station and got the spiel on the featured library offering, they got a raffle ticket for a coffee mug and Starbucks gift card. This resulted in a number of patrons signing up for routing lists they were previously unaware of and general increased awareness. Our reference statistics have increased dramatically this year, as well (though, admittedly, this may be more a symptom of overall increased workflow agency-wide). With a smaller set of people with which to work and more personal relationships with each individual, it is admittedly easier to get them into the library. But that doesn’t mean the open house concept can’t be adapted.

One final note, I think, is important to address. Many very interesting and provoking events at the libraries in my area are held during business hours. This makes sense, to some extent — the bulk of the staff is in-house during this time and with more staff comes greater flexibility. However, many potential patrons simply aren’t available at this time to attend programs. While at-home parents may opt to bring their child(ren) to story-time during the day, daytime programs on container planting aren’t ideal for most people. Evaluating the times programs are offered can bring a huge boost in attendance. Try different times, with a little luck, your library will become the community hub it’s meant to be.

Image courtesy of Photo Pin.

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