Monday, October 18, 2010

Reference Collections

Those of you who know me understand the absolute delight I took in helping to weed the desk reference collection last week! Ok, ok, it was an intern project, but he graciously let me play along. I couldn't just sit there and watch while GLORIOUS weeding was being done, right? No, I could not. It was a learning experience for the intern. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. He really did all the first-round decision making and physical moving of books to cart. I cleaned up empty shelves behind him with a dust cloth and talked with him about each of his choices.

Here are my questions for all you librarian readers, as well as my own opinions on the matter:

1. What is the purpose of a Desk Reference collection? They are within arms-reach of the reference desk, and primarily behind the desk.

My answer: Criteria include irreplaceable and therefore valuable (like high school yearbooks), used by staff (ie. something like "Chase's Calendar of Events," which we use to think up display topics), and asked for regularly by patrons. If the public asks for it often, you can get to it quickly if it's right behind the desk.

2. What is the purpose of a regular, separate reference collection, not located behind the reference desk?

My answer: Everything that is not irreplaceable/valuable and that staff and patrons don't use regularly. Multi-volume sets, especially.

3. What makes something a reference book, versus a circulating book?

My answer: Ahhh, now we're getting to the heart of the matter! I like the idea of putting the library collection in the public's hands. Their tax dollars paid for the items and we purchased them with specific information needs in mind. Let's let them use the stuff at their convenience!

If only it were that easy, though.

Many reference books are difficult to figure out. People unaccustomed to something like the Physicians Desk Reference or the Statistical Abstract of the United States may need guidance in their use. I have seen heads just about explode at a glance through Value Line. That's a good reason to keep them near the desk. These example titles are also all used often enough to warrant keeping a copy on hand at all times (and therefore not allowing check-outs).

On the other hand...they may have readily available online counterparts. The Statistical Abstract of the United States is online, full-text at It's even the current edition! Do we use the online edition as the "reference" copy because it is always available and let the paper copy circulate, or do we point patrons to the online version and keep the paper copy as "reference?" Either way, there's always a copy available when you need one. That's just one example - take a look at your ready reference books and see how many are duplicated in a database or web site.

Many traditionally reference titltes are not expensive, though, and do require a time commitment by the patron to use them. How about antiques and collectibles price guides or coin collecting books? They take more time to use them than ready-reference allows. People might want to take these books home to compare the pictures in them to their actual collections. They're not that expensive, either.

How many years' worth of annuals do you keep on hand? Almanacs, price guides, etc. are only useful for so long. As it turns out, I found out through this weed that building code books are still valid on some older buildings. The new code books may only be used on new construction, where building projects on old buildings can in some cases use the old codes.

There is so much to say about weeding, collection management, and specifically reference collections. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this!

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