The Bigelow Free Public Library in Today’s Digital Age of Library Services
An Interim Report Prepared by the Board of Library Trustees for Discussion at the Board of Trustees Meeting on February 20, 2014 at 7.00 PM in Clinton’s Bigelow Free Public Library.
As elected members of the Board of Trustees of the Bigelow Free Public Library (BFPL), we oversee the library, establish policy and plans, and determine the annual library budget which is submitted to the Financial Committee, the Selectmen, and ultimately town meeting for approval.
This interim report describes advances made over the past two years by the BFPL Trustees to guarantee that the standard of service offered to BFPL patrons is comparable with the standard of service most public libraries, regardless of size, offer their patrons in today’s digital age—standards that those patrons now regard as “the norm” for library services. Two current priorities of the BFPL Trustees are to ensure that the BFPL’s collection and services compare favorably with collections and services provided by libraries in surrounding towns and that 24/7, full access to resource sharing, as enjoyed by patrons of surrounding libraries, may be enjoyed by BFPL patrons.
To move toward these patron-centered priorities, starting in 2012, throughout 2013 and continuing in 2014, the Trustees have solicited advice from a number of professional library management organizations and individuals on various aspects of library management. This report describes this ongoing process of seeking professional input so that the services offered by the BFPL and the quality of the library’s collection may be the best they can be and compare favorably with the professional standards of modern-day libraries.
The timing of the release of this report has been contingent on the BFPL receiving written confirmation of the FY 2015 cost of the BFPL becoming a full member of the resource-sharing consortium Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing (C/W MARS). This confirmation was received on February 6, 2014.
What Is Resource Sharing?
Resource sharing describes the fundamental service offered by all libraries be they public, academic or research libraries. Library patrons avail themselves of a library’s resources and services. Resource sharing includes patron access to not only their home library’s in-house collection, but also allows patrons to share the collections of other libraries via inter-library loans.
Modern technology, including the computerized automation of procedures once done by people, has impacted many aspects of our non-library daily lives. While the daily business of our lives remains—we buy food, clothes, gifts; we book air flights; we buy entertainment tickets, and so forth—the ways we transact our daily business has changed. The same is true for modern-day libraries. The fundamentals of resource sharing remain the same; but how resource sharing is transacted has changed significantly in recent years. This change has been very positive because it allows library patrons finger-tip access to large collections of resources and the convenience of transacting their own inter-library loan requests from their personal electronic devices at times convenient to them.
What Is C/W MARS?
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the books, magazines, CDs, DVDs and e-content (eBooks and downloadable audio and video materials) for approximately 320 public libraries, 43 academic libraries, and a small number of school and special libraries can be found through nine automated resource sharing networks. These nine networks are arranged geographically throughout the Commonwealth. Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing (C/W MARS) is the network for Clinton and our region of the Commonwealth.
The C/W MARS consortium consists of 155 member libraries. C/W MARS facilitates the circulation of more than nine million items annually from its member libraries to one million registered borrowers. In the earlier years of the consortium, C/W MARS offered a two-tier membership of either affiliate or full membership. The annual membership cost of an affiliate membership was the cheaper option ($5,508 in FY 2014), but it didn’t provide the complete services of the network. Affiliate membership didn’t, for example, allow patrons 24/7 access to placing reservations (“holds”) on items in other libraries as seen from patrons’ home computers. Instead, reserving an item required that a patron contact the BFPL and request that a staff librarian reserve the desired item which was subsequently delivered to Clinton for patron pick up. During an extended period of budgetary constraints, though, BFPL Trustees deemed that an affiliate membership in C/W MARS was the advisable option at that time. But times change.
Cost to the BFPL of Full Membership in C/W MARS
From July 1, 2014, C/W MARS will no longer offer the affiliate membership option. Aware of this timeline, since 2012, the BFPL Trustees have been in discussion with C/W MARS to lower an initial quote of $34,491 (excluding one-time start-up costs) for an annual full membership of C/W MARS in FY 2014. The result of these discussions is the recently confirmed FY 2015 annual quote of $ 15,967 (excluding one-time start-up costs). This now confirmed FY 2015 quote represents a decrease of $18, 524 over the initial FY 2014 quote. The reason for this decrease relates to reassessing the number of the library’s holdings. This reassessment process, which is described later in this report, does not include a dramatic liquidation of the library’s collection. It is based on obtaining accurate numbers of the items actually in the library’s collection. The Trustees emphasize that the reassessed numbers are not based on draconian measures to liquidate the collection.
Benefits to the BFPL of Full Membership in C/W MARS
Access to Materials, Reservations and Renewals: A number of limitations—physical space, and acquirement and maintenance costs—mean no library can contain all the materials published each year or all the items a patron might request. An obvious benefit is network resource sharing, which has already been described in this report and which enables patron access 24/7 to the collections of the member libraries in C/W MARS. Unlike affiliate membership, full membership allows for patrons to place virtual reservations (“holds”) on desired items that are subsequently delivered to the BFPL for pick-up. Full membership also enables patrons to renew borrowed materials online.
Cost Benefit of Access to Digital Materials: More and more printed materials are being digitized. Digitization is also an essential aspect of preservation. Plus, there is the growing demand for eBooks. The BFPL collection currently contains no circulating eBooks. Full membership in C/W MARS permits access to the digitized materials of member libraries. Resource sharing of digitized materials is a significant benefit and cost saving.
For example, while the cost of a print book to a consumer and a library is typically the same, some publishers are currently charging libraries six times more than consumers for eBooks. The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC), the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth, compares consumer/library eBook prices for the best-seller “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg. The MBLC cites an eBook consumer price of $12.99 versus that same eBook’s cost to a library of $74.85. By way of example, MBLC cites consumer and library print versions of the book as the same at $13.72.
Access to eBooks is a rapidly growing aspect of library patrons borrowing habits. The MBLC notes that from 2005 to 2012 eBook demand increased more than 5,000% and that 83% of state residents want statewide access to eBooks. Full membership of C/W MARS will allow BFPL patrons access to the eBooks of the consortium’s member libraries. Without membership in C/W MARS, the BFPL risks being digitally locked out of this rapidly expanding eBook lending potential.
Digitization of the BFPL Collection: Full membership of C/W MARS will provide BFPL patrons with access to the library’s collection from public access computers within the BFPL that are dedicated to this purpose. This will enable virtual browsing of the BFPL collection while visiting the library.
Management of Late and Missing Materials: Digitally tracking late and missing books is far superior in terms of time and money. Full membership in C/W MARS will facilitate recouping late fees and fees for missing books that will contribute to replacement costs. Digital tracking will also increase staff efficiency in these matters, thereby freeing up staff for other library services.
Improved Staff Efficiencies Permitting Enhancement of BFPL Services: Time-saving aspects of digitizing the BFPL collection will enable library staff to enhance and introduce additional aspects of library services for BFPL patrons and for the Clinton community. This increased potential for enhanced services will be fully explored over the next several months as the library works on an updated five-year plan, a process that by definition solicits input from the public early in the process.
Improving the BFPL’s services for teens is an example of enhancing a current library service. The BFPL has a large children’s collection but a much smaller young adult collection. Young adults are an underserved population in libraries in general. They are also underserved in Clinton in term of locations where teens are welcome in groups. The library is looking to address both these issues by expanding its young adult collection and by dedicating a space within the library that is exclusively for teen use. The library sees enormous potential for collaboration with those agencies, organizations, and individuals who work with teens in the Clinton community.
With collaborative ventures in mind, the library has recruited a number of individuals who work in the Clinton community to assist in working on a draft of the updated five-year library plan. The library foresees recruiting the expertise of others as the draft progresses. The Trustees anticipate a draft of the plan will be ready for public comment in the summer of 2014 and be submitted to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners on October 1, 2014.
Increased Community Awareness of the Library and the Services It Offers: Libraries that become full members of C/W MARS typically report an increase in library use and appreciation of the services of the library, including services other than circulation services.
Description of the BFPL’s Collection
For clarification purposes, in this interim report we describe the BFPL collection as comprising two categories of materials that together constitute the whole collection. One category we are calling “current BFPL holdings”; the other we are calling “older BFPL holdings.”
Current BFPL holdings are those items that are visible on library shelves and accessible to the public. Older BFPL holdings are those items in the library’s closed stacks behind the first floor circulation desk and in the Director’s Room, a closed-stack area off the Children’s Room on the second floor. These older items are not physically accessible to the public other than by request. (The closed stacks and the Director’s Room are not ADA-compliant areas.) The older items in these closed stacks are, however, accessible to the public via card catalogues located in public areas of the library.
Current BFPL Holdings: Located in the Adult and Children’s Rooms, current BFPL holdings comprise books: fiction (modern, best sellers, classics), biography, history, reference materials, hobby books, and so forth; large print books; audio books and DVDs.
The BFPL’s current holdings are replenished throughout the year with new items. This replenishment, which averages around 4,000 new items each year, guarantees that the BFPL collection continues to be up-to-date and that BFPL patrons have access to current materials in many genres and formats and to attractive reissues of classics in print and audio formats.
Older BFPL Holdings: These comprise books long unrequested and unread. Most of these books have not circulated for decades. They are housed in areas of the building that are not adequately climate controlled to guarantee their preservation.
Obtaining an Accurate BFPL Collection Number
Since affiliate membership of C/W MARS required computerized cataloging, for some time the Trustees have been concerned about the accuracy of historically recorded totals of the BFPL collection. Since 2012 two previous directors made good faith efforts to address what seemed disproportionately large holding numbers (204, 755 items in 2011) for a library with the physical shelf space of the BFPL serving a town with the population size of Clinton. Despite these directors’ best efforts, which included downward revisions of BFPL numbers in 2012 and 2013, the Trustees felt that even these revised numbers were not sufficiently accurate.
Rather than attempting to make further adjustments to suspect numbers, the Trustees decided the only way to be confident of the accuracy of the BFPL’s holdings was to count the entire collection. In October 2013, the Trustees sought advice from the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) about how to conduct an accurate manual count. (MLS is an independent, state-supported organization that provides services to more than 1,700 Massachusetts libraries of all types and sizes.) Based on the professional guidance of the MLS, throughout the month of October 2013 teams of library staff manually counted every item in the BFPL, including items in the closed stacks. Furthermore, because of the variable sizes of children’s books, the children’s collection was counted twice. The result of this total holdings count was 90,405 items.
As a result of investing time and effort in October 2013, the Trustees are confident that they have an accurate count going forward. That said, the Trustees emphasize that we do not consider recent library directors responsible for the BFPL’s historically large numbers. On the contrary, recent directors did their best to rectify an inherited situation that came about probably because the BFPL’s recording methodology differed from that used by most other libraries. The genesis of the situation started many, many years ago and is now lost in the mists of time, hence the need for the “start over” October 2013 count. Going forward, because of the digitization of the collection required for both affiliate and full membership in C/W MARS, the BFPL is able to maintain an accurate BFPL holdings count.
Maintaining the Quality of the BFPL Collection
Similar to libraries elsewhere, the BFPL has finite shelf space on which to display current and updated items. As has been noted previously, to ensure the BFPL collection is up-to-date, relevant and attractive to patrons, the BFPL introduces an average of 4,000 new items into its collection each year. These new items require shelf space accessible to the public. Because of shelf-space limitation, it’s necessary to remove certain items from the collection, a process known as “weeding.” All libraries that purchase new items routinely weed their collections.
What Is Weeding?
Weeding is a process of removing books from circulation following a set of guidelines. It is not a random discarding of books and other materials.
The weeding guidelines most libraries follow, including the BFPL, are based on an assessment of each item. This item-by-item assessment process is based on the acronym MUSTIE whereby “M” stands for Misleading (and/or factually inaccurate); “U” for Ugly (worn and beyond mending or rebinding); “S” for Superseded (by a truly new edition or by a much better book on the subject); “T” for Trivial (of no discernible literary or scientific merit; usually of ephemeral interest at some time in the past); “I” for Irrelevant (to the needs and interests of a community); and “E” for the material or information that may be obtained expeditiously Elsewhere through interlibrary loan, reciprocal borrowing, or in electronic format. (Weeding Guideline source: CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.)
Maintenance of the BFPL’s Current Holdings
This section of the report concerns that category of the BFPL’s collection previous described as “current BFPL holdings.” It does not refer to the category described as “older BFPL holdings.”
To maintain the quality of its current item offerings and to ensure that the BFPL applies professional standards and consistency to its weeding practices, in 2013 the Trustees again sought professional advice from MLS. Although some BFPL staff members had previously attended weeding workshops offered by MLS, most of those staff members were no longer with the library. The Trustees decided, therefore, that all current staff members would benefit from a training session in responsible and professional weeding practices. On October 10, 2013, a weeding advisor from MLS visited the BFPL and conducted an on-site workshop.
As previously noted, items described as “current BFPL holdings,” meaning items on display on the shelves, are subject to assessment based on the MUSTIE weeding guidelines, guidelines tempered with a degree of staff judgment, as learned in the October 2013 workshop. When an item is deemed a candidate for removal from the collection, the BFPL has a policy of initially distributing children’s items to appropriate agencies, organizations, and individuals (such as home schooling parents) in the Clinton community. Books no longer in the collection are also periodically offered for free in the Children’s Room.
After resource sharing with others in the Clinton community, the library makes every effort to sell non-circulating items. There are small ongoing sales in both the adult and children’s departments of the library. But it is thanks to the dedicated work of the Friends of the Bigelow Library, who run large book sales periodically during the year, such as in June during Sidewalk Sale Day and in September at Olde Home Day, that most books find another home. For example, a week-long Friends sale is currently underway in the library (February 18-22). At the conclusion of this sale, which the Friends are staffing, space will be provided in the library for an ongoing, honor-system Friends book sale. This reallocation of space, which provides for a larger ongoing sale of books than has been possible in the past, is because of the impending relocation of new public-use computers to the first floor.
After the BFPL has exhausted sale and community distribution options, the library is unable to house items no longer in the collection. They are therefore removed from the building. Previously the BFPL has engaged the services of B-Logistics, a division of Discover Books, a company that specializes in reselling and recycling library materials. In this arrangement, the BFPL received a percentage payment of books sold. This is not an uncommon library practice. Many libraries engage the services of a reselling/recycling company to generate revenue from items no longer in their collections. The BFPL no longer uses the services of B-Logistics.
Assessment of the BFPL’s Older Holdings
A public library is a resource sharing system, not an antiquarian book repository. With some exceptions, such as materials of historical or significant research interest, unless an item can be a shared resource, it belongs not in a public library, but in an environment suitable for the preservation of antiquarian books. A suitable environment includes providing a climate controlled environment and may or may not include public access.
At present, the BFPL’s older holdings in the closed stacks, which are predominately print materials, are undergoing professional evaluations in terms of their value and the feasibility and cost of preserving these materials. These older holdings are currently not undergoing the maintenance weeding that was described earlier as an aspect of collection quality control applied to the BFPL’s current holdings.
In the spirit of resource sharing, a very small number of these older materials, namely non-Clinton town records, have been given to libraries that did not have copies of their own town records. The remaining records, other than a small number that inadvertently ended up in the Clinton recycling center, remain in the BFPL where they will be professionally evaluated along with the older holdings.
The BFPL has also selected from these older holdings items that are of particular local interest. These items will be accessible to the public at a future date in an area of the library dedicated to Clinton’s local history and genealogical research. Another example of enhancing the services of the BFPL.
Assessing the Value of the BFPL’s Older Holdings: The BFPL is currently engaging the services of a number of professional antiquarian book appraisers and dealers to review and report on the value of the BFPL’s older holdings.
This assessment process will continue over the next several months until the Trustees feel they have an understanding of the consensus opinion of professional appraisers. At the conclusion of this assessment process details will be made public.
Assessing the Feasibility of Preserving the BFPL’s Older Holdings: The BFPL does not have the appropriate environmental conditions to preserve old books. To assess the feasibility of preserving and relocating its older holdings, the BFPL is soliciting professional advice, together with documented considerations and recommendations, from those knowledgeable in preservation matters. In early February of this year, Gregor Trinkaus-Randall, Preservation Specialist at the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, visited the BFPL and reviewed the older holdings.
Also in February, Rosemary Waltos, a building consultant with the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, visited the BFPL and gave an approximate estimate of creating an in-house space for the older holdings that would be accessible to the public.
The BFPL is also presently consulting with William B. Meyer, Inc., a company recognized as a leader in library relocation and storage matters, regarding requirements and costs were the BFPL’s older holdings to be preserved off-site in suitable environmental and climate controlled conditions. William B. Meyer’s Library Relocation Services Division provides climate-controlled storage facilities to academic, public, and law libraries.
At the conclusion of the preservation feasibility assessment, details and costs will be made public. At this time, the Trustees emphasize that the appraisals and evaluations of preserving and relocating the BFPLs older holdings are not yet complete.
Interim Report Conclusion
This interim report describes recent progress made by the BFPL Trustees to guarantee that the quality of the BFPL’s collection and the standard of service offered to BFPL patrons is comparable with the quality of collections and the standard of service most public libraries, regardless of size, offer their patrons in today’s digital age.
The BFPL is also exploring ways to enhance the services and resources the BFPL provides the Clinton community.
At this time, the Trustees reiterate that the assessment of the BFPL’s older holdings is a work-in-progress. Only at the conclusion of this assessment period will BFPL Trustees, as the elected overseers of the BFPL, make their formal recommendations to the Town regarding the BFPL’s older holdings.
–Interim Report submitted by Bigelow Free Public Library Trustees: Susan Franco, Caroline Keiger, Sarah Parker, Gloria Parkinson, Frances Purcell, Nancy Starr (Chair).