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  • Has it been replaced by a better model?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?


It’s All About Appearances

In Borders the other day I happened upon this display. Glancing at it, I figured “oh, looks like they’re hocking the Twilight books pretty hard still.”

But on closer inspection, that wasn’t the whole story. There was a Twilight book or two in the vicinity, but the books they were hocking were a bit older. In fact, they were classics. Playing on the black and red cover styles of the Twilight books, they had Wuthering Heights with the tagline “Love Never Dies,” and a sticker that lets you know it’s “Bella & Edwards favorite book.” They had Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet with the tagline, “The Original Forbidden Love…”

They were attempting to fleece young people into reading classic literature. Kind of a good idea. There’s that hackneyed adage about not judging a book by it’s cover, but that’s exactly what everyone does. People who enjoy Twilight have probably read all the books by now, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to read. Repackaging classics into thicker volumes with larger print and a flashy cover just might get young people to read these fine works of art. Most of the time it’s all about appearances.

How can libraries steal this idea? How can we change the appearance of something to make it more appealing or relevant to users. An example might be your library’s website. There’s good content and useful tools on there, but maybe the way they’re displayed isn’t exciting or makes users turn to something easier.

Perhaps by reformatting the website content, making it prettier and more interactive, users might be more inclined to navigate to your website and stick around for a while.

Are there other ways we can change the appearance of something, either physically or online, to increase usage?


Meaningful Books and Getting to Know the Community

Last Friday I participated in the Meaningful Books Series at Champlain College which is run by my colleague Sarah Cohen. I don’t normally do things like this, but I really love this event series every time I’ve gone, simply because you get to learn a lot more about a member of your community. So I figured I would share myself with the community and help out my friend. We also recorded it so people who couldn’t attend could see it as well. Here’s the last 5 minutes:

Click here to watch the video on YouTube

Also, my friend Becky from library school at UW-Madison told me about a community reception her library runs that highlights faculty scholarship and creativity. So you’d be able to learn more about the accomplishments and wider lives of community members in that way. I just think stuff like this is so cool and think that we should be doing more of it.

Is anyone else hosting events like this?