Remaining Relevant with Reconfigured Print Collections

by Jill Crawley-Low
Science Library, University of Saskatchewan

Lately I have found collection management, specifically weeding of a collection and identification of a core collection, to be a challenging exercise. The University of Saskatchewan’s (U of S) Engineering Library’s print collection built over many years is being reconfigured, including downsizing, to open up space for infrastructure that supports individual and group learning and research. A reconfigured collection remains in the branch while the majority of the collection that has not been dispersed is housed in remote compact storage. Although materials can be requested from storage by placing holds in the catalogue, in person browsing will be limited to the branch collection. A combination of computer-generated data and human-generated subject knowledge was applied to determine which items to keep and which to discard. After all this effort, the question posed is: will the reconfigured collection serve the needs of those who use it?

Those who use it are U of S students and faculty who work in a fast-paced and changeable institutional environment that is also shared by the library. Teachers, researchers, and learners expect easy access to resources and assistance on demand. In response, the University Library offers a variety of service options. The library profession lends support to all types of libraries by envisioning the ideal future and developing creative ways to provide perpetual access to e-resources, share print resources cooperatively, and address preservation issues for all types of resources.

Academic collections consist of a small proportion that you can see on the shelves. The remainder of the iceberg that is underwater is accessible online, available freely or at cost. E-resources demand management by library workers with specialized knowledge and skills: the results of mismanagement are acutely visible. Ongoing access to electronic resources requires significant labour and financial resources. Print collections do not demand management; in fact, they invite neglect. Weeding projects typically occur when there is a pressing need, such as space reduction or collection relocation, and not as an ongoing process when there is time to consult with those who use the materials and make solid decisions that will still apply some years hence.

These thoughts occurred as I stood in the stacks of that carefully acquired engineering collection and saw the well-used books side by side with those that were last opened when they were processed and shelved for the first time. I wondered about the combination of logic applied to data and the less logical subject knowledge that would result in the most relevant reconfigured print collection remaining on the shelves. I also wondered how important the unseen online component of the collection is to our users’ information needs, and the value of taking time as well as employing the subject and technical expertise of library workers to dismantle a collection that has been built over the years.

The question asked at the outset of this post, “Will the collection serve the needs of those who use it?” is going to be answered in the months to come by the usefulness of the core, or reconfigured, collection. We will monitor the use of the collection going forward, and, if some of our decisions have run counter to our service mission to assist clients on their research and learning journeys, we will take their advice and reconfigure the reconfigured collection.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.