Successful Saturdays: Moving on UP or The Paperback Book Club
Today's installment of Successful Saturdays will focus on how we increased circulation at our library.
My library has a strange configuration. It is a split level building built in 1975. It is three stories tall, without the space. It has 16,000 square footage, but none of that is on one floor. 2,000 is in the downstairs area (which could also be referred to as the dungeon), and 2,000 square foot in the upstairs area (for administration, technical services, and other behind the scenes work), and 12,000 square feet on the main floor. We also have one elevator that connects all three that can often breakdown and mostly results in children playing in it. If you talk to most consultants about library building space, most of them will say that you don't need to consider multiple floors for a library until you reach 30,000 square feet. It is a simple question of access. Having multiple floors results in staff going up and down stairs and elevators to do their job, and requires patrons to do the same to access collections. This is an obvious problem if you choose to put anything downstairs, no one will know it is there.
Paperback books, audio books, music, and videos are typically your highest circulating materials. By rule, you should have these materials easiest to find as they will have the highest demand and the highest circulation. However, all of these collections were on the bottom floor out of site, which resulted in lower than average circulation for the entire collection. Money spent on these collections was also spent sporadically which is no way to promote your collection. If your materials are old, dusty, and in the basement with nothing new added month after month, your patrons will stop checking. I still remember a patron complaining that we did not have the Bible on audio book and asking what kind of library were we not to have that.
It was not that the collection development budget was inadequate, it was just that it was not properly spent. Before my employment at my library, the librarians were configured different so that only one librarian ordered all of the materials for the collections and none of the funds were spent consistently. It was a little here a little there. Money needs to be spent consistently on all collections with strengths in the highest circulating collections. You should not spend entirely based on circulation statistics, because then you will just be a bookstore, but circulation should be a major factor in how you spend money. When I became the Manager, we devised a formula that added up the number of volumes for the year and the number of circulation then divided each collection by the whole of the circulation. This allowed us to get a percentage of the circulation for the entire collection, we then multiplied the percentage for each collection by the total allocation of funds for the fiscal year. We then got a ball park figure as to how much to spend for each collection based on popularity. Another good resource is Collection Development Training for Arizona Public Libraries. This is a fantastic resource and if you are ever thrown into collection development with little or no formal training, this will make you look like you know what you are doing.
Even after spending funds consistently, we still had the problem with collections downstairs. It became an access issue since when the elevators were broken, those who needed it could not get the paperbacks and videos they needed. We decided to move the collections upstairs.
Now the library does not have an infinite amount of space and this project would involve the library closing for two days, they help of our City's Parks Crew, and the ingenuity and sweat of library staff. We got rid of our seating that was by our magazine section. (I touched on this in another post where we got rid of our resident transients by getting rid of this seating.) We placed all of our video collection by the magazine rack so when patrons walked in, they did not see a row of transients, but a row of videos, audio books, and music. Some people did not even know we had this collection. As a result, circulation jumped dramatically going from 16,000 circulations last year, to over 32,000 circulations this year and a turnover ratio of only six circulations per item to over 15 circulations per item per year. A great success, but the other collection, the paperbacks, is where we ran into trouble.
The paperback collection always had low circulation, to the point where we were not sure we were going to keep it at all. After discussion, we found that some of the collections did have high circulation, and after a heavy weeding to make space downstairs for our former upstairs seating, we received a lot of flak from patrons. We reduced the collection from almost 10,000 items to just under 8,000 in two months. Patrons were furious, “We can't find anything to read.”. I still remember a patron coming up to one of our librarians with book bag with only one paperback book in it, “This is all I could find today.” she said in an angry tone. We were playing with fire now.
Initially, we intended to move all the collections at once, but there was not the time or the space. Early the following year, we were able to use impact fees to buy tall shelving for an area in our Adult Fiction Collection (that was upstairs) to house our paperbacks. (Just another note, you should always put similar collections together so that patrons can find everything they are looking for.) We broke down the old half shelving and installed the new full shelving (the vendor provided the labor, thank goodness). Then we moved the paperbacks upstairs.
We still had to weed the collection even further to get the collection to fit in the upstairs section. We received additional flak as we reduced the collection from 8,000 items to 4,000 items. I thought the patrons were going to riot, but we never ended up weeding anything that was actually used. The turnover rate was less than 2 on average, whereas most libraries have double that rate for their paperback collections. Once we moved the collection upstairs, we discovered something, people began to find the paperbacks who had never used them before. “Where did these paperback collections come from!” Circulation ended up going through the roof going higher than it was even with almost 10,000 items and we ended up with a turnover rate of almost 5 circulations per item. Looking back, we discovered that our patrons wanted the paperbacks downstairs because they developed their own little paperback club. No one else knew about the collections so it was like their own personal library, which is great for the individual, but bad for the community. It is better that the majority of people could find the books, and discover new books, rather than a few people have their own personal library.
As a result of our moves, we increased circulation throughout the collection, but particularly in the collections involved in the move. We provided additional space for more computers, going from 11 computers to 30.