In developing some collection quality standards everyone seems to be looking for hard and fast rules. Medical information and legal information is questionable after 5 years, or if no one has checked out a book in 5 years, it should be weeded. These kinds of rules disturb me in many ways. No single title or collection can be judged based on such singular criteria. Context, condition and community (forgive the alliteration!) all determine an items “fitness” for inclusion in the collection. Rules of thumb are a good jumping off point but don’t forget to allow for the exception that might “prove” the rule!
Context: Where was the item shelved or displayed? Did the right people find that item? If something isn’t “working” in your collection, have you thought about why and where it is within the library? Does it belong in more than one place? Items with crossover appeal are also making me reconsider multiple copies of titles in multiple places! The Twilight Series, Harry Potter and many of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride books appeal to all ages and kinds of readers. If your circ numbers are not doing what you think, ask yourself about context!
Condition is also a fun topic at my library. Our youth librarians and I debate constantly the quality of a particular item. As an adult services librarian, my standard on what is “yucky” is completely different from our youth staff. I have seen picture books held together with tape and prayer and still it circs! Obviously what is standard for one collection might not work for others.
My community also has its own barometer of taste and standards and as a librarian I am bound to take this into consideration. Many years ago I debated with a librarian about inclusion in our library a coffee table book featuring some pretty graphic photography. The book was 65 dollars and had a naked man on the back cover (Very naked). I am no prude and I am not out to censor anyone, but I was trying to think of even one person in my library that would check it out. My argument was less for content and more for it really didn’t address a single person in my community. Maybe this would be a better title for a larger library or a specific art or photography collection. My point is that with a limited collection budget and shelf space, I don’t want materials that are not going to serve my patrons.
Before anyone thinks what I have said is engraved in stone, I have exceptions to almost every collection situation I can think of! I keep a copy of a book I would never purchase because the guy who donated it comes into the library to “visit” the copy on the shelf. I keep many books that are in poor condition simply because I can’t find a good looking replacement. What we librarians must do is defend our choices with data (circulation and cost are serious issues to consider) If our choices aren’t working, have we really considered other issues like shelving location, marketing or whether this particular title was a good choice for the community.