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The Natural Evolution of Collections

March 2, 2012

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately in regard to collection management.  I select for the Adult Nonfiction collection at our library, and my focus is pre-publications – so ordering the next new popular nonfiction book before it comes out.  I also deselect in the 000-200 Dewey ranges.  As team lead for the library’s Wiki Team, I’m facing a lot of decisions regarding our archives for the 1972 Black Hills Flood (what to digitize, what not to digitize) and the evolution of our site for the Sanford Underground Research Facility into a section of the Black Hills Knowledge Network.

Yesterday, I withdrew the more damaged of our two copies of Human Race, Get off Your Knees: The Lion Sleeps No More by David Icke, and (of course) had to leaf through it.  I was kind of amazed that we had two copies, but you serve your public.  And a public is interested in a wide variety of things.

Today, the story about the “Little Libraries” that first sprouted up in Wisconsin came through my social networking feeds again.  When I first saw an article about Todd Bol’s memorial for his mother in my Google+ feed, but the USA Today piece on it came to me via a Facebook friend.

It got me thinking.

My husband and I will be relocating this spring, and the remaining, middle-American badges of adulthood such as Home Ownership are on our horizon.  It would be incredibly awesome to have a little free library beside my walkway.  I have a feeling that we’d initially stock it with some Malcolm Gladwell and classic science fiction, but I also think it would be nifty to track how that collection changes.  There are no policies, apart from “take a book, leave a book,” but that one isn’t enforced by anything other than common courtesy.  There’d be no collection criteria.  There’s no budget.  There’s not service population demanding the purchase of specific or additional titles while simultaneously protesting the inclusion of others.

It would be pretty simple.  Make a note of what titles the little library is initially stocked with. Then check the library (by opening the door and visually scanning) perhaps once a week to see what titles have been taken and what they have been replaced with.  I usually cringe at the use of this adjective, but it seems like it would be an incredibly organic collection, growing and evolving as its users grow and evolve.  You’d also have the ability (and so would your neighbors/users) to shape your community through your additions. It’s a very early-librarianship concept of “bettering the community through appropriate reading choices,” but it applies, even if it lacks the stodgy, social-Darwinistic and condescending intent of Melvil Dewey and his like.

You could get crazy high tech with it and install hardware/software that would track how many times the door is opened and closed, much like brick-and-mortar libraries track their door counts for attendance, and digital branches/resources track pageviews.  Whether or not you borrowed anything, you expressed enough interest to navigate your feet/mouse over to give things a look-see.

Looking at the more unique designs, there’s no reason you couldn’t make the outside of the library reflect some thematic inside contents and spread them around the city.  How about a castle for fantasy?  A cottage for cozy mysteries?  A spaceship for science fiction?  The possibilities could be a blog post in and of themselves.  But would thematic libraries attract more users, or less?  Would the collections stay “on theme,” or would users ignore the subtle hint given by the structure?  There’s also the question of setting – to maximize use, I imagine it would work best if genre-libraries were installed in a downtown district or a city park – someplace where all the genres can be browsed within easy walking distance of one another.

I have a lot of ideas, but no real answers or concrete plans other than this one: if/when I install my own little library outside a home, I’ll definitely be keeping track of how the collection grows.

Who knows?  Maybe I’ll formalize it and end up submitting a paper on organic libraries to your favorite professional journal.

Or just one of them.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Becca permalink
    March 3, 2012 4:10 pm

    What a fun idea!

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  1. Tiny Libraries in Community Spaces « Biblionalia

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