Instant Ideas and Collaboration

Feature #06: The Many Faces of Collection Management

To tie in with this month’s #uklibchat on Collection Management, we have our first jointly written feature post from three librarians managing very different collections. Wendy Taylor explores ways in which libraries can provide accessible collections for their blind and partially sighted patrons, Michael Williams describes the logistics of managing the huge collections of the Bodleian Libraries, and Jodie writes about her experience managing collections in a public library service.

Thanks to Wendy, Michael, and Jodie for their contributions to this month’s feature post! Join us on Thursday 6th June between 6.30 & 8.30pm UK time to talk more about collection management (you can add your questions to the agenda here).

Wendy Taylor: Managing collections of large print and audio in Public Libraries


RNIB research shows:

  • only 7% of all books were available in braille, audio and large print in 2011
  • without eBooks, only 17 per cent of 2011’s top 1000 books were fully accessible, compared to 76 per cent when including accessible eBooks
  • reading as an activity was “very important” to 82% of surveyed respondents and 45% used their public library.

187 public library authorities have signed up to the Six Steps to library services for blind and partially sighted people and one step is to provide local collections of large print and audio books. This post describes some of the ways public libraries can fulfil their legal obligation to serve the one in eight people in the UK who have difficulty reading print by managing their collections of accessible format material.

Collections of large print and audio in public libraries

Sourcing material

By including large print and audio material on their catalogues, libraries can share material through Inter Library loan and offer a greater range to their readers. Customers can see what material can be requested on Bookmark your library. The Bee Aware Scheme is a national initiative to promote the inter library loan of accessible format material on behalf of visually impaired and print disabled people. The scheme was originally piloted within the North West, before being widened into a national scheme with the aid of Government funding in 1999.

There is no single alternative to standard print that meets the needs of everyone with sight loss and many blind and partially sighted people use a range of organizations and formats to source their reading material. Your Reading Choices is a short online questionnaire to help blind and partially sighted people find the organisation they need. The RNIB’s Carry on reading leaflet also provides a useful guide to sourcing books in accessible formats.Collections of large print and audio in public libraries

Ebooks have the potential to dramatically increase the availability of accessible material, but only if the service is designed to be accessible. A recent RNIB survey indicated that staff assistance was essential for most people at the start, even for experienced computer users. The general feedback was that it would have been extremely difficult for most people to manage on their own, however library staff were found to be helpful and supportive.

Making material accessible

A collection can be made more accessible to people with sight loss through adapting the library building. For example using contrasting colours and clear signage can improve access for people with sight loss. Guidance on what else to consider can be found on Reading Sight.

Many libraries are using the RNIB PenFriend to enable people with sight loss to make independent selections from their audio collections. PenFriend is a pen sized device which ‘speaks’ basic information about an object, such as a book, when a special label is scanned. Volunteers can be used to record the blurb on to a label which can be played when scanned by the PenFriend reader.

Libraries should include large print and audio versions of titles in book displays and promotion and if only one copy of a book is affordable buy a large print version where available.

Find out more

You can find more about making library collections accessible to people with sight loss at the Reading Sight website. To share questions or experiences with other libraries join the Six Steps jiscmail list which is open to anyone involved in providing library services for blind and partially sighted people.

Wendy Taylor

Bibliographic Services Librarian, RNIB National Library Service


Michael Williams: Head of Storage & Logistics, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford

Michael WilliamsAs a library of legal deposit the Bodleian Libraries receives a copy of every book published in the UK. This arrangement has existed to a greater or lesser extent since Sir Thomas Bodley made an arrangement with the Stationers’ Company in 1610 for a copy of every book registered with them to be deposited in his library. Of course this arrangement means the extent of the Libraries’ collections is huge – around nine million printed books and circa two million items in Special Collections.

The central Bodleian Library is supported by a network of departmental and faculty libraries which collectively make up the university library services known as the Bodleian Libraries. College libraries are independent. The primary service focus of the Bodleian Library on serving the research community with the student population served by the departmental, faculty and college libraries where books are lent (although this is not exclusively the case).

My role is to lead the Storage & Logistics section, established in 2012, where activities include the storage of the collections, supporting the book service, managing book moving projects, and providing specialised library packaging.

In 2010 we opened the flagship Book Storage Facility in Swindon which currently holds 7.3 million books and 1.5 million maps. We have a team of 18 staff there who are responsible for retrieving and re-shelving books requested for reading in the libraries across Oxford. We also store the weekly intake of legal deposit material after processing and cataloguing, which equates to around 1,500 books per week. This is the first book storage warehouse operating on the ‘Very Narrow Aisle’ system to be opened in the UK. Similar warehouses exist in the US and Europe including Harvard. Unlike the robotic warehouse that the British Library have recently opened, ours is run by human beings using specialised fork-lift trucks.

A van delivers the books twice a day to central Oxford where the material is distributed, via a hub and two further vans, to around 20 libraries and reading rooms. And we collect the material for re-shelving too. The warehouse stores lower demand, modern books and a proportion of our rare books and Western manuscripts collections. Last year we retrieved and re-shelved 215,000 items requested by readers –  around 4,500 a week.

With so many library buildings and such large collections, we face many logistical challenges. We have a team of people who provide a courier service to move Special Collections between libraries and offices, and this team also assists library staff with internal moves, typically moving 2.5 kilometres of material each year.

Managing this activity is challenging because demand can vary significantly over the course of the year. The majority of team members are trained to do multiple activities including box making. The Packaging and Display Section has been making acid-free preservation boxes for the collections for many years. These help protect our collections both in storage and during transit. This service is offered to external customers and many of you may be familiar with our grey boxes in your own libraries. We also provide tailor made cradles and supports for books and artefacts in our exhibitions.

Of course, such dispersed and complex operations come at a cost and I am responsible for an annual budget of £1.5M.

In addition to heading up these areas of the library service I also have my fingers in many other pies:

  • I’m a member of the Bodleian Libraries’ Cabinet, a group of library managers that look after our administration and services. See: http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/staff/management/bodleianlibraries/management/cabinet
  • Managing the fixed term project to barcode the collections at the Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House – the library is moving to the new Weston Library when it opens in 2014
  • I’m part of the Weston Team overseeing the £80M refurbishment of the New Bodleian Library that will re-open as a Special Collections Library – I’m specifically looking at the book stacks, moving the collections in, and the provision of the book service
  • Exploring new services, including:

The diversity of customers, both staff and readers, across the Libraries mean that my areas of responsibility provide services to many areas of the Libraries. This results in me spending lots of time on committees and in meetings. At times it can be quite time consuming and a bit of a drag but it is very rewarding and the diversity makes my job very interesting. Groups include:

  • Academic Library Services steering group
  • Strategic Planning working group
  • LibQual+ user survey
  • Health and safety committee
  • UK Research Reserve (UKRR)

Although all of my activities are behind the scenes I’m very fortunate to be able to get around many of our buildings and meet so many colleagues which helps me gain a good understanding of what is happening in our libraries and the challenges we face. I live and work in the heart of a beautiful city with a challenging, yet rewarding job!

Jodie: Librarian in North London Public Library Service

Whilst book budgets have been significantly cut in some local authorities, the budget for my public library service has remained relatively intact.  As a consequence we can continue to acquire new publications and core stock replacements throughout the financial year.  My library service acquires stock directly from a contracted book supplier through a process of supplier selection, replacement purchasing, or reader reservations.

One way in which the librarians guide the supplier selection process is by creating library profiles; these profiles determine what percentage of the acquisitions budget should be spent where.  Library spending profiles can be become very specific, for example, noting what percentage budget should be spent on adult non-fiction, then stating the percentage per class then stipulating high priority acquisition subjects within this class.  Standing orders also guide the supplier selection process.  Placing core authors on a standing order helps to ensure that popular new releases reach our readers as quickly as possible. Standing orders can change according to the size and needs of the library concerned, for example we can place a standing order for both the hardback and paperback version of the newest Anthony Horowitz for our leading libraries, but only request a single paperback copy for our smaller branch libraries.  By placing a standing order on specific book awards we save staff time by essentially pre-arranging the acquisition of shortlisted titles for our collection.  Standing orders and library profiles are reviewed annually to ensure that they reflect community needs and cultural trends.

Relying entirely on supplier selection will not ensure a comprehensive collection.  Whilst supplier selection generally covers new publications there is still great demand for ‘older’ classic or core books.  Supplier selection will help acquire the latest David Walliams for the children’s library, for example, but it won’t send us any more Roald Dahl or J.K. Rowling.  For this reason the librarians in my public library service retain a replacements budget.  This replacements budget allows us to replenish the libraries with core books whenever a stock-gap arises.  We also retain a separate budget to satisfy reader reservations; often reader requests are a great way of identifying up-and-coming reading trends or acquiring copies of ‘classic’ texts overlooked during our replacement spends.  Reader reservations are equally helpful in letting us know when we have to supplement our existing copies of certain books in order to satisfy an unexpected demand, i.e. we experienced this very recently with the E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.

Another important part of collection management is weeding – the process of finding and removing unwanted or damaged books.  A good percentage of weeded stock is removed from public libraries simply because of poor condition.  For both the adult and children’s collections we immediately discard any book with torn, missing, grubby, yellowed or water-damaged pages.  If the budget is still available then there’s no excuse for a ‘make do and mend’ attitude towards stock.  Tired and damaged books will do little to entice readers into the libraries.

The main weeding criteria for well-conditioned stock is usage.  Any fiction or non-fiction book that has not been borrowed in a year is either transferred to a different library or deleted.  We automatically delete children’s non-fiction over ten years old although non-fiction relating to subjects like geography, computing and science are often weeded earlier (similarly for adult non-fiction in these subject areas).  The best examples of withdrawn stock find a good home with Better World Books.

Technological advances have both hampered and assisted the stock-editing aspect of collection management.  Radio-frequency identification (RFID) machines have empowered library users by facilitating reader self-service; unfortunately this now means date stamps are not a reliable indication of book issues.  Weeding in RFID libraries takes longer because more books need to be scanned into the Library Management System to determine their usage.  However, some technology can assist with collection management.  Tools like collectionHQ (a software suite designed to assist and stream line collection management) help to remotely identify stock that is not being borrowed; these items are then circulated to another branch library or withdrawn from the shelves.

Collection management for public libraries is a fun and diverse role.  The responsibility of purchasing books for children and adults, fiction and non-fiction, new books and ‘classic’ books leads to a lot of variety and is one of the more enjoyable aspects of being a public librarian.  Long may the budget last!


One comment on “Feature #06: The Many Faces of Collection Management

  1. Pingback: Summary – Collection Management – 6th June 2013 | #uklibchat

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This entry was posted on May 30, 2013 by in Feature and tagged , , , , .


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