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How To Reduce Clutter In Your Library

many, many bookcarts

Image from Yuba College on Flickr

It can be difficult to drop things that we’re doing or get rid of things we’ve had for a while. Just watch the show Hoarders. We become attached to our possessions and ways of doing things. It is necessary though. We can’t do everything, collect everything, and be all things to all people. If we try, we will either become bloated or stretch ourselves too thin. We have to know our communities and tailor our services to their specific needs.

Gretchen Rubin, the author of the Happiness Project wrote a great blog post over at Zen Habits about identifying and getting rid of clutter. Much of what is in this post is relevant to libraries and the way they collect resources, implement technology, and provide services.  Here are a few of Rubin’s questions seen through the lens of libraries:

  • Would I replace it if it were broken or lost? If we’re not replacing specific library books when they get lost, did we really need them in the first place?
  • Does it seem potentially useful—but never actually gets used? A book or database or technology may have seemed like a really great idea and perfect for your community, but it isn’t getting used. Sometimes this has to do with marketing. Sometimes it was simply a bad decision. Don’t retain a resource or maintain a service because it seemed like a good idea at one point. Retain the ones that are valuable and used by your community.
  • Does it serve its purpose well? Is the collection you purchased doing what you thought it would? Is the new service you’re providing doing what you wanted? If it’s not actually doing what you intended you may need to reevaluate it.
  • Has it been replaced by a better model? Has a newer edition of a book come out? Does a technology you have been using have a new competitor that might be cheaper or  work better than what you’re currently using? If so, maybe it’s time to upgrade. Conversely, don’t get something simply because it is the newest and shiniest. Evaluate if you need it or if your version of it still fills your need.
  • Is it nicely put away in an out-of-the-way place? Perhaps you’re considering offsite storage or compact shelving for books. This could be an option for some institutions, but maybe you just have too much stuff. Could you just get rid of some of it?
  • Does this memento actually prompt any memories? Sometimes we develop emotional attachments to things. “We need to keep this specific collection because we’d feel bad if we got rid of it. Libraries are supposed to have this reference set!” If your patrons don’t use things, there is no need to keep them around.
  • Have I ever used this thing? Look at your reference statistics. When was the last time that book circulated? Never?! In seven years?! Hmmm, it might be a good candidate for Better World Books. The same thing goes for electronic resources. We have the ability to look at usage. Tie your decisions to your patrons usage. They vote with their clicks and their checkouts.

I’d bet you could start getting rid of things today, reducing clutter, and begin freeing your funds, space, and time for much more valuable ventures. What clutter do you have at your library?

Andy Burkhardt

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