February 17, 2018

PLA 2010 Conference: I Have These Statistics-Now What?

By Barbara Hoffert

PLA Library Association – PLA 2010 – Annual Conference – Portland

  • Collection analysis, step by step
  • Starts with turnover, ends with action plan
  • Session handouts available online

“Books are to be used and used heavily, and if not, they should be out the door,” proclaimed Kathryn King, adult materials selector, Fort Worth Public Library, TX, at the opening of the packed Public Library Association (PLA) Conference session titled, “I Have These Statistics—Now What?: Getting Started on the Path of Collection Analysis.” That got a cheer from the audience. 

King then quickly dispensed with the kind of collection analysis you need (customer oriented, not core list oriented) and why you need it (to optimize funding, staffing, and shelving and truly meet patron demand) before moving on to the all-important how.

Analysis starts with turnover
As many librarians already know, collection analysis starts with turnover: the circulation in a given area divided by the number of items in that area. To assess different areas of the collection effectively, you’ll need to do some sensible parsing—remember, the 600s include car repair, clothing, and business, areas with different readership and hence different demand. 

King advised that, to avoid a lot of backwork, librarians may want to consider how their ILS system breaks down the collection. She also told the audience members that when picking a time frame for their analyses, they should remember that monthly measurements are dynamic but that a yearly measurement takes in seasonal changes and school assignments.

Comparing turnover rates
Comparing turnover rates reveals which areas are really cooking and which are slow. Though there’s no accepted norm for turnover, a low turnover rate likely means that you have too many items in that area and popular materials are getting lost among the shelf-sitters. 

Determining relative use

To get an even clearer picture of your collection, you can determine relative use. First, chart percent of circulation in an area as its portion of circulation divided by total circulation times 100 and percent of holdings in an area as its portion of holdings divided by total holdings times 100. Then, divide the percent of circulation by percent of holdings. 

And what have you got? If relative use equals one, then that part of the collection is in good shape. If relative use is greater than one, you had better expand your holdings to meet demand; you might not necessarily need a lot more titles, but you will certainly need more copies for the hungry souls reading in that area. And if relative use is less than one, get out the trash bins and start weeding.

Guidelines on weeding
Weeding is most often driven by age of holdings, and Fort Worth is especially stringent in this regard; while the Texas State Library decrees that at least 25 percent of the collection should be no more than five years old, Forth Worth wants at least 70 percent of the collection to meet that target. 

King’s advice on staying time sensitive: date-critical areas like law, travel, science, and medicine should be evergreen, so you’ll probably want to start your analysis there first; areas where the date doesn’t matter so much can be up to ten years old. Some areas might not seem time sensitive, but things can change (within two to three years, your natural disaster titles should cover Haiti); and even stable areas need regular update owing to graphic design and the flash judgments made by a new generation that twitters.

Implementing an action plan
More advice: when doing your analysis, it obviously helps to organize the numbers on an Excel spreadsheet. Once you have determined relative use and can see what needs weeding and what needs expanding, get an action plan; not only will you make the whole process more manageable by incorporating it into your work flow but you’ll impress that all-important director or board member when seeking funding for areas that need expansion. 

Start with smaller areas, because you’ll see momentum and it’s an easier job to delegate. And don’t do everything at once; you’re aiming to see spikes in areas on which you have worked.

Fort Worth’s own circ stats
Did King get circulation spikes in such areas as, say, sports and cooking? Actually, she could confirm only that nonfiction circulation has gone up since she came to Fort Worth in 2006. And she did allow that you only need fiction to be 50 to 60 percent new, which still means wrestling with classics from Jane Austen to John Updike (Fort Worth determines age by copyright, not by the date a title was entered into the collection, making its fiction truly au courant).

The audience seemed generally enthusiastic about King’s tool as means of understanding what’s really happening in a collection. Check out King’s PowerPoint presentation, which includes formulas for determining how much to weed, how much to expand, and how much to increase circulation.  

Click here for more PLA 2010 Conference News coverage from the editors of Library Journal and School Library Journal

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