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To Float or Not To Float | Collection Management


Most libraries that adopt floating collections expect circulation to rise because collections will be better distributed to meet patron demand. Yet how many have analyzed whether collections perform better after implementing floating than they did before materials were relocated? The Nashville Public Library undertook an experiment in floating with optimism. Did the results pay off? Here is how it all began.

Source: To Float or Not To Float | Collection Management

This story demonstrates the importance of regular evaluation of policies & procedures.  It is a cautionary tale of not relying on conventional wisdom and the lack of complaints from patrons.  It is also a story of how deep data diving (versus surface or superficial scanning) can and should be used to reconsider decisions.

The Dallas Public Library utilizes floating.  As a patron, I noticed that this did result in a more inconsistent collection, particularly the highly-used videos.  I’m not a reader of fiction books, but the availability of audiobooks was more sporadic.

Floating collections is a method used by a number of library systems with multiple branches or locations.  Rather than returning items requested from differing locations, the library that receives the items essentially “keeps” it.  The theory is that if one patron at that location wants the item enough to request it, then other patrons of that location may want it.  This is not unlike the theory behind demand-driven acquisitions – if one patron uses an ebook, others may use it.

Initial results were promising – increases in overall circulation were seen and these gross measures were attributed largely to the floating collection.  But the author states that not taking “other factors” into consideration “could lead to wrong conclusions.”

Indeed, the closer look that he took presented a very different picture.  For example, the circulation of fiction books decreased after relocation.  The only locations that saw an increase were in areas of the “highest income and education levels and had customers most likely to place holds.”  Circulation of popular authors and titles also declined, as well as those in large-type print.

The problem was due to pooling of these titles at locations whose customers were more likely to request transfers.  The staff at these libraries were constantly shifting the collections to make space for these titles.  So they implemented more aggressive weeding, basing selections for removal primarily on the number of copies.

Also contributing to the problem was differences in accessibility of the locations.  Those located “along travel routes to and from major job and commercial centers…often became overwhelmed by items their customers did not request and did not meet their needs,” (emphasis added).

Diagram showing connections of branches

A SEA CHANGE This diagram illustrates how materials washed up unevenly at certain NPL branches

The author does not discount floating outright, but states that it is “not for everyone,” and he makes several recommendations for librarians to essentially be more smart about their floating collections.  These ideas include limiting circulation periods and renewal options for high-demand titles, increase the frequency of notifying patrons when their items are in, thus reducing the amount of time that items sit on the shelf waiting to be picked up, and “relocating underperforming (sic) items that were needed at other branches rather than unnecessarily moving popular (holds driven) material.”

The point is, there is value in looking at what our patrons do (what they request) to shift collections, but librarians should not abandon their responsibilities entirely.  This is true of demand-driven acquisitions.  Opening a collection to any and all titles available could result in a collection that includes material outside the scope of the needs of the majority of the patrons.  Managing a DDA collection takes a lot of work to ensure the selections are within the scope of the library’s responsibilities, and are of the appropriate levels.  Enabling the patrons to make specific title-by-title selections can improve the collection.  Initial examination of our DDA collections have shown that post-selection usage was greater for these titles than titles selected by librarians without direct requests from patrons.

I’m excited to read about such efforts to base decisions on careful analysis of evidence rather than cursory looks at selected data.

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2016 by in Assessment, Collections, LIS Data, LIS Research, Public Library.
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