Self-Publishing & Instant Printing

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

shutterstock_268054271As librarians, we know that technology has changed the way we provide service to our patrons—it’s a no brainer. Some of us, myself included, have been around long enough to remember being a part of the beginning waves of change: the introduction of the MARC record, the advent of turnkey automation systems, followed quickly by the rise of personal computers, and the transformation of card catalogs into scrap paper. For years, prior to using the Notes feature on my smartphone, the backs of my library’s catalog cards served as shopping lists.

None of us really knows how technology will transform the way we interact with our customers in the next five to ten years. But there’s one particular area that I’m especially excited about: the advent of instant publishing. Gone are the days when the publisher imprints of Vantage Press and a few others were stigmatized as “vanity presses” and scorned by librarians. Today, any title can be easily published with only a modest financial investment and made available worldwide through standard online retailers, as well as a wide variety of other websites, including,,, and

Why am I excited about this? Furthermore, why should librarians care?

Fifty-ShadesFirst, instant publishing completely bypasses the gatekeeping function of traditional publishing, designed to maintain profitability. It is now possible for anyone who has a good story to tell—or an underrepresented nonfiction topic to explore—to publish their work, be it via print or e-book. Thanks to new publishing alternatives, hot titles like Amanda Hocking’s Trylle trilogy went from initial self-published e-books to having its rights acquired by St. Martins. After being rejected by major publishers, E.L. James self-published her first book, Fifty Shades of Grey, both as a paperback and an e-book. Ever heard of it? I didn’t think so…

Second, books can make it into finished form and into the hands of readers much faster than ever before. That’s undeniably a good thing.

Third, local authors in our communities have many more shutterstock_348765254options now for getting self-published and getting their books onto our shelves. I could go on and on, but the benefits of self-publishing are clear for authors, readers, and libraries. An added plus for collection development librarians is that it has become easier for publishers to bring titles back that had moved to O.S.I. or O.P. status when their inventory was exhausted.

Self-published titles do present challenges for libraries. Lack of reviews and cataloging records, competition for limited materials budgets, and acquisition challenges are not insignificant. I have often wondered how my library could offer an e-book to users if it isn’t included in titles offered by ProQuest, Overdrive, hoopla, or other content aggregators. But in my experience, libraries (and opportunistic new businesses) always find ways to shape new technologies into expanded services for patrons.



Today, Espresso Book Machines are installed in public libraries and other locations. This ingenious device makes it possible to purchase a book from among thousands of available titles and have it printed and delivered (i.e., dispensed from the machine) in a few minutes. Biblioboard makes it possible for individual e-books to be easily added to its database of titles that are available to libraries (MARC records included). Also, its partner, SELF-e, offers a means for people to produce their e-books and distribute them through their public library.

These are exciting times when we librarians can say “yes” to more people and encourage access to more titles.

shutterstock_222267694At one time, the LP record was THE format for music and spoken word. Its replacement, the cassette tape, is long gone and now CDs are beginning to be phased out. The emergence of Beta and VHS videotapes led to forecasts that movie theaters would disappear. Instead, theaters continue attracting audiences, Beta and VHS are gone, formats unimagined at the time have replaced them, and video materials have the highest turnover in public libraries.

Similarly, the development of e-books sparked fears that the traditional book format would fade away. So far, the physical books are holding their own quite nicely and libraries now offer access to far more titles in formats far improved from the original Rocket eBook. No doubt self-publishing will trigger predictions that traditional publishers will crumble. More likely, as with so many other developments, it will simply add yet another format or option to the mix. I predict that we librarians are going to enjoy choices and service opportunities that even the brightest of us can’t predict. How’s that for a prediction!

shutterstock_255656932.jpgWhat do I see when I gaze into the crystal ball? Change. It’s just a hunch, but I think libraries will remain part of that mix so long as we don’t latch onto particular formats as sacrosanct or reflexively try to resist the pace of change, only to make ourselves redundant in the process. Instead, we must continue to embrace new opportunities and technological adaptations in the name of service for our communities.


Paul Maya party


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.


The Library of Things: “Can I Borrow That?”

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.shutterstock_421041232

Libraries across the country have begun to circulate more “things” than you might expect. The traditional emphasis on books and audiovisual materials still remains, but imaginative lending programs for other types of materials are cropping up everywhere.

Following are some examples.


Ann Arbor District Library (Michigan): Art prints, die-cutting kits, games, tools, etc.

The Ann Arbor District Library is more progressive than most about expanding borrowing options, and was an early adopter of the idea. The library began circulating art prints 40 years ago! Now it allows patrons to borrow die-cutting kits for making art at home. It also has circulating collections of games and tools, as well as telescopes and musical instruments. Click here for more.



Arlington Public Library (Virginia): Dolls, electrical equipment, and garden tools

American Girl dolls are expensive and not everyone can afford them. Several libraries, including the Arlington Public Library—a leader in interesting collections—have started lending programs for these popular dolls. The program was originally funded by Arlington’s Friends of the Library group. The Washington Post featured this collection when it was first assembled.LED-Box-of-Bulbs-slider

Arlington also has an Energy Lending Library that includes thermal cameras, electricity usage monitors, Rethink Energy books, and LED Bulb Sample Kits. And if that wasn’t enough, it has a Garden Tool Lending Library as well.


Hopkinsville-Christian County Public Library (Kentucky): Bicycles

This library has joined with a local physicians’ group to provide access to bicycles in their community. The Book-A-Bike program launched with eight adult bicycles and six bikes for kids, available at a small fee to library card holders. Users can ride around town or explore the Hopkinsville Greenway rail trails. Click here for more.



Daviess County Public Library (Kentucky): Musical instruments

I recently attended a bluegrass festival in Kentucky, and was impressed to learn that the local library system had a big presence on site, documenting the event for all to see. The library helps to inspire future musicians by letting them check out guitars, mandolins, keyboards, and banjos.


Recycle Those Solar Eclipse Glasses!

Libraries across the country served as distribution points for the glasses needed to safely view the historic solar eclipse in August. Some libraries even collected the glasses for recycling after the event. A program like this reminds citizens that libraries are a great resource, hooking them up with things they need, in addition to information and entertainment. Click here for more.


Many More Things!

This roundup from American Libraries covers many innovative lending programs from libraries across the country. Find out where library patrons can borrow snowshoes, a Roomba robot to vacuum your house, bubble machines, Santa suits, and fondue sets.


And even more things! Read this one if you want to borrow a dog (yes, an actual therapy dog) or a fishing pole.


Far-Reaching Benefits

Libraries attest that innovative lending programs help establish deeper relationships between libraries and their communities. They also improve access to the arts and sciences. While the primary goal of such programs is to get people into the library, upon arriving, patrons might just find themselves checking out some books! These ideas may inspire you to explore the perfect idea for your library.

Tell us about the non-traditional lending programs you’ve tried.




Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.

Presidential Libraries

By: Richard Hallman, M.Ln.1200px-Seal_of_the_US_Presidential_Libraries.svg

As librarians, we naturally follow the ups and downs of libraries. Are budgets flat-lining? Are we having a mini-boom? If you build it, will they come? One kind of library seems certain to continue enjoying a slow and steady growth curve: the presidential library. We’ll probably keep electing presidents, and plans for new presidential libraries will probably continue to come along every four to eight years.



Model of The Obama Presidential Center

Many presidential libraries and museums have been built over the years, mostly with funding from foundations and private citizens. Herbert Hoover and every president since has had an official library. Richard Nixon has two libraries, one in Maryland and one in California. President Obama’s library is still in the works, but will be located in Chicago.

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) manages all of the official presidential libraries, but there’s always a foundation involved in the development phase—conflicting agendas are not uncommon. This Politico article about how the Obama library will be different explains the complicated NARA-presidential library relationship much better than I can. Click here for article.

Why do we have presidential libraries? In addition to being museums and tourist attractions, they are repositories of all sorts of historic documents that are of interest to researchers. They can serve as a base from which a former president chooses to do whatever he (and, maybe someday, she) wants to do in his (or her) post-presidential life. NARA is most concerned about preserving presidential history and documents, but others involved may be more concerned with managing the president’s legacy and public perceptions.


Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Presidential libraries share a number of common features. In addition to the customary official displays, there are usually permanent and temporary exhibits about the presidency, history, and the First Lady. There are artifacts that you can look at but not touch, and often a replica of the Oval Office. This article reviews some of the more exotic holdings of these specialty libraries. Click here for article.

A visit to a presidential library could be a good way to get some ideas about new displays in your own library. You may not have the same budget to work with, but at least ideas are free. Politicians are prolific book writers, so perhaps there’s an opportunity to feature some tomes from local pols. What about displaying some non-literary items? Does your library have any kind of special collection? Maybe there are artifacts you could feature in a display case.

Let’s look at a few titles about presidential libraries:

Pres Libraries & Temples 2 Cover Combos

Presidents get to decide where their own libraries are built. Texas has the most presidential libraries with three. President Johnson and both Bushes have Lone Star State libraries. California is home to two, representing Nixon and Reagan. All the other states with presidential libraries are only home to one each for now, but one would assume that a Trump library will arise somewhere in New York someday, joining the Franklin Delano Roosevelt library, which is in Hyde Park.

The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, conveniently located near my house in Atlanta, has beautiful gardens, frequently hosts author events, and is even home to a Saturday morning farmers market.  They do not they sell peanuts.


Jimmy Carter Presidential Library & Museum

Take some time to visit a presidential library in person if you get a chance.  And if you don’t find one nearby, this site from the National Archives includes a guide to all of the presidential libraries and museums.  It details their holdings and programs, provides links to their websites, and provides virtual visits. Click here for website.


Richard Hallman, M.Ln.


Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.

Fandom Programs

By Katherine L. Kan, MLIS

Stranger ThingsLibraries have long conducted special programming for patrons of varying ages. Fandom-related programs are relatively recent, but more libraries these days are trying them. Many librarians are fans themselves — of science fiction, of comics, of particular series of books, TV shows, or movies — so it’s relatively easy to create and run these programs. A fandom program is not as large-scale or complicated as a full-blown comics convention. The nice thing is that a library doesn’t have to spend too much money, especially if it can rely on the talents of staffers, a Teen Advisory Board, or willing library volunteers.

Why consider fandom programs? First of all: to attract fans, whether they love Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Star Wars, Sherlock Holmes, Stranger Things, or any other series. Some of these fans may not otherwise think the library has materials they’d like to borrow. These programs also help publicize the library and make the general community aware that the library is more than just a place filled with books. The increased foot traffic generated by programs can immediately lead to greater circulation, and libraries can see other positive results, as well.

library-card1A fandom program might be just the thing to get a new family into the library and encourage them to apply for library cards. Also, when people come to think of the library as a place for community and to have fun, they tend to be more likely to support the library as a valuable resource. Teens especially enjoy fandom programs, and librarians can generally harness their creative energy to help plan and present the programs.

Following are three fandom programs conducted by my local public library: Bay County Public Library, in Panama City, Florida. Bay County has seen increased usage by families over the years, thanks to these and many other programs presented by the staff and volunteers. I’m a longtime volunteer for the Youth Services Department and have helped with programming for more than a decade. The ones I’ve helped with have been half-day or one-day events.


Doctor Who in the Library: September 10, 2016

fandom-photo-set-1aa.pngThis was a great family event, with activities for all ages. Staff members constructed a TARDIS out of large cardboard boxes — even painting the interior — and people had loads of fun going inside and having their photos taken. I ran a perler bead craft activity. In over 30 years of conducting activities like this, I had never had more than 20 people make something during any one-hour workshop, so I put together 74 kits for a three-hour program. Much to my surprise and delight, they were all gone in under two hours. Good thing I brought my extra beads. People started counting out beads to make the item they wanted, and in between heating up and fusing the finished designs with my handy iron, I put together a few kits as well. More than 100 people came in throughout the afternoon. I estimate that people made around 90 perler bead items.



Fandom-photo-set-2Star Wars vs. Star Trek: July 11, 2017

Bay County Public Library’s Teen Advisory Board chose this fandom program and helped to run it along with the YA Specialist. I brought my button maker and helped attendees make buttons using Star Wars and Star Trek designs. The program included a trivia contest, crafts, and fun science experiments. Many of the teens came in costumes.



Harry Potter Day: July 22, 2017

Harry Potter Day was another family event, with costume contests, games, crafts, Harry Potter-themed snacks, a photo booth, and lots of fun. Librarians and other staff at the library loved cosplaying Harry Potter characters. One of the activities was the Potions class — staff had fun making props for the displays.


None of these programs costs a lot of money, as long as library staff, their families, and community volunteers of all ages are willing to do some work. Any library can put on a successful fandom program. Choose your own fandom theme and have some fun!





If you’re looking for a graphic novel guru, you’re looking for Kat Kan. Kat looks like the stereotypical librarian with glasses and a bun, until you see the hair sticks and notice her earrings may be tiny books, TARDISes from Doctor Who, or LEGO Batgirls. Click here for more.

The Collection Development Conundrum

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

5934882 - student looking at empty book shelves in libraryAlmost ten years ago, David Feldman penned a series of “Imponderables”: books with catchy titles such as Why Do Pirates Love Parrots?, When Do Fish Sleep?, and Do Penguins Have Knees? They moved well in public libraries for a few years, and then people seemed to lose interest in those questions. There are bigger questions, though, that people never seem to tire of pondering:

  • How did life begin?
  • Will we ever cure cancer?
  • Are we alone in the universe?
  • Why do we dream?
  • What makes us human?

Certainly, the shelves of our libraries are replete with titles that attempt to answer each of these quandaries. I want to single out a different question, though— one that we librarians chew on from time to time: “What’s the best way to select new titles for our collection?”

After many years of practicing the art of selecting new materials for public libraries, I have learned many things but I don’t intend to imply that I have all the answers. Nor does anyone else—and I recommend you not allow yourself to be bamboozled by anyone who claims their modus operandi is numero uno. What I’m suggesting is that the question “What’s the best way to select new books for the collection?” is a classic imponderable.


Oops… I have let a clue slip into the previous paragraph: Art. Selection of new materials is an art, not a science. Says who? I say it is. Ah, yes, art vs. science, another timeless conundrum—and also the name of an Australian electronic dance band that is raucously frenetic, IMHO. But I digress.

Before getting into the art of selecting titles, let’s look at the various triggers that prompt us to select. “How do we decide what gets added to the collection? Let me count the ways.” (Apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning.) 

  • The powerful influence of media presence
  • The appeal of cover art: it goes without saying that poor design or the lack of text and colorful graphics will dissuade most if not all patrons from checking out the book
  • Physical size, or the Goldilocks principle (not too big, not too small)
  • Binding
  • Patron requests or to meet the needs of a particular audience
  • School assignments
  • Local interest or tie-in
  • Library book selector says, “It’s my favorite area of interest and my library can never have enough _____ books.” (Fill in the blank: knitting, backpacking, Indian cooking, Scandinavian mysteries, etc.)
  • Fill a gap or special need
  • Amazon customer comments
  • Expeditions to bookstores
  • Donations
  • Bestseller lists
  • Anticipated demand for a title
  • Author popularity
  • It’s the next one in the series
  • A particular title is selected to provide balance in the collection
  • Self-promotion by author
  • Publisher catalogs
  • “Let George do it”—or, in the library’s case, outsource selection responsibilities to a vendor
  • Vendor promotion/customized selection lists
  • Vendor buying levels
  • Vendor list of “best” books
  • Visit from sales rep
  • Print run
  • Price
  • “Whoops! Look, we’ve got some funds we need to encumber by the end of the week.”
  • “The computer made me buy it,” a.k.a. suggested titles generated by software programs
  • Blanket orders or standing order plans
  • Television shows (get ready—Oprah is returning to the air this autumn!)
  • Did I mention the influence of media presence?


7338274 - book. word collage on white background.   illustration.What haven’t I listed? Reviews, of course; book reviews. But do they really matter these days? While that’s a completely separate topic in itself, I won’t hesitate to jump in and firmly state, “Yes, reviews matter!” Librarians have many excellent sources of professional reviews from which to choose.

It comes as no surprise that our public expects new books. Not a travel guide from three years ago and not a hot author’s thriller that has been available for a few years. Every survey of our customers says “We want new books,” and every public library’s circulation statistics bear this out. We have our marching orders from patrons: “Make our collection fresh, new, appealing, and up-to-date!”

But consider this not-too-far-fetched example. While we are evaluating a brand new title that discusses the history of yodeling in Tasmania — to replace our worn-out, aging title on the topic — we may find reviews suggesting that this new title is poorly edited and full of inaccuracies, or that it is an unstated reprint of a title originally issued in 1957. Here’s how “art” comes into play. Perhaps we will serve our patrons better by purchasing a well-reviewed title on the topic that was published two years ago, as opposed to one published this month. Also, we may have to stand our ground when other staff members question why such a limited-interest title would be selected at all. We know our clientele, and we see the circ. stats for that old, worn-out tome on the shelf, and we employ what is so aptly described by the phrase “professional judgment.” This is the art of selection!

Selecting books can certainly be informed by science, but I’m of the firm opinion that simply letting the computer do the work is not the way to go. Humans can make judgment calls and handle nuances and shades of gray in ways that software simply cannot, no matter how sophisticated the algorithms may be.

11293717 - young smiling female librarian handing a book to a customerAs professional librarians, we have access to respected journals that offer us reviews of forthcoming and recently-published books. Amidst our efforts to respond to media saturation, vendor buying levels, tweets, emails, phone calls, and blog posts, let us not neglect the art of reading reviews, using good judgment, and knowing our community. Hippocrates said “Art is long, life is short.” I interpret this to mean that it takes us an extended period of time to develop and perfect the craft of selecting books for our library and community of users.

So, where are we now, dear reader? Are you reconsidering your book selection process? My motive was to raise a question, get you to think, and encourage you to ponder possibilities. How do you and your library select? How is it working for you?

And now, forward! Ahead into these times of turmoil and changing tools for publishing and selecting! Having begun with the imponderable question of how to best select new books, I now suggest you be forewarned to never lose the art of your foresight—and to never forebear.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Hobbit


Paul Maya party


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

Some “Revolutionary” Books for Your Library

By: Richard Hallman, M.Ln.hamilton graphic-2

A popular show or movie can spur new interest in a wide array of older books. Although I am not a huge musical theater fan, I do live with one. Hardly a day goes by without a discussion having to do with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Pulitzer Prize winning Hamilton. And the coffee table book that bears the show’s name is on our coffee table!

Hamilton: The Revolution        9781455539741
Miranda, Lin-Manuel               04/12/2016


The idea for the show came from Ron Chernow’s biography of Hamilton. To paraphrase a little, it explains how the man whose face adorns the ten dollar bill – a founding father without a father – got a lot further by working a lot harder, being a lot smarter, and being a self-starter.

Alexander Hamilton              9781594200090
Chernow, Ron                        04/26/2004



Chernow also wrote a compelling biography about George Washington, the “Pride of Mount Vernon” and father of our country. Washington was Hamilton’s surrogate father, and Hamilton was his right hand man.

Washington: A Life              9781594202667
Chernow, Ron                      10/05/2010


In the show, Angelica Schuyler, Hamilton’s beloved sister-in-law, has been reading Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, when she declares, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and when I meet Thomas Jefferson I’m’a compel him to include women in the sequel!”

Common Sense                    9780062695529
Paine, Thomas                    06/06/2017

Federalist Papers Cover


Hamilton joined with James Madison and John Jay to write The Federalist Papers, promoting the ratification of the United States Constitution. Alexander Hamilton, who was a non-stop writer, personally penned 51 of the 85 essays.

The Federalist Papers             9781631064241
Hamilton, Alexander              10/01/2017


Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier, otherwise known as the Marquis de Lafayette, was America’s favorite fighting Frenchman and another fascinating character from Revolutionary times. Sarah Vowell put her quirky spin on his historic activities.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States             9781594631740
Vowell, Sarah                                                          10/20/2015

John Laurens Cover


Fans of the show and of history will want to know more about Hamilton’s good friend John Laurens, the man who promised to “sally in on a stallion with the first black battalion.”

John Laurens and the American Revolution        9781611176124
Massey, Gregory De Van                                        09/15/2015


Another notable line from the show comes when Hamilton asks, “Why should a tiny island across the sea regulate the price of tea?”

The Boston Tea Party: No Taxation Without Representation               9781499417265
Tovar, Alicia                                                                                              08/01/2015

American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked a Revolution               9780306820793
Unger, Harlow Giles                                                                                               03/06/2012

Tea Party + Tempest Cover Combo


The show-stopping moment comes from King George III, who is flabbergasted upon learning that his subjects have left him. He says, “What comes next? You’ve been freed. Do you know how hard it is to lead? You’re on your own. Awesome. Wow. Do you have a clue what happens now?”

King George: What Was His Problem? : Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You …         9781250075772
Sheinkin, Steve                                                                                                                                  09/22/2015

The Founding Fathers vs. King George III: The Fight for a New Nation              9781482422177
Roxburgh, Ellis                                                                                                            01/01/2015

King George WWHP + Founding Fathers Cover Combo


Want to know more about the “damn fool” who shot Hamilton? Although this title is pure fiction, the main character is based on the very real Aaron Burr, and was used to develop the character in the show.

Burr: A Novel            9780375708732
Vidal, Gore                02/15/2000

Click here for an interesting article about Aaron Burr from



And finally, the dramatic finish:  “Most disputes die and no one shoots.”

War of Two: Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr and the Duel that Stunned The Nation           9781592408528
Sedgwick, John                                                                                                                                 10/20/2015

Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr: Duel to the Death        9781482422139
Roxburgh, Ellis                                                                           01/01/2015

  War of Two + Alex Ham vs Aaron Burr Cover Combo                           

Hamilton is in the midst of a sold-out national tour, with an educational component that is expected to reach nearly 100,000 high school students. Libraries can expect huddled masses yearning to read more.


Richard Hallman, M.Ln.


Budding collection developer Richard Hallman finally set aside his dreams of becoming a rock star, movie director, and/or famous novelist to embrace librarianship. Click here for more.

Floating Collections

By Paul Duckworth, MLS

20984552 - a stair case of books floating on a cloudy sky backgroundThe concept of floating collections is one that tends to polarize librarians. Many of us either love or loathe the idea. Toss that topic out at a conference social hour and listen to the reactions.

“Floating collections—what a neat idea!”

“Floating collections—I don’t want that to happen in my library.”

“Our library has been using floating collections for several years. We wouldn’t think of going back to static collections.”

“Well… yes, I can see some benefits. But what about …?”

The idea of floating collections is fairly new, wouldn’t you think? Surprisingly, the concept has been around longer than I realized. Floating collections began in a regional library system in Western Canada in the 1930s. The concept was later adopted by a district in Colorado in 1984 (a 50-year delay!). You have to hand it to those Westerners: they are free-thinking pioneers in many areas, including library practices.

I remember first reading about floating collections in 2003. The article I read intrigued me, but triggered several questions as well. It wasn’t until several years later that I found myself working in a library district that had been using floating collections for several years. After reading much more about it in the literature, visiting with librarians, and experiencing it firsthand as both a staffer and patron in a multi-branch system, I have developed my own observations and opinions.

There are some strong and clear positives. Floating collections make books available for patrons more quickly, while reducing staff time and delivery vehicle expenses. Collections get refreshed continuously, meaning branch collections better reflect what their patrons are using. Furthermore, there’s less wear-and-tear on materials, and centralized selectors don’t need to make branch-by-branch decisions on who receives a copy. The Cuyahoga County Public Library in Ohio found that floating led to budget savings of 10-15 percent and greater patron satisfaction. Another library’s experience was that floating collections brought the staff together in communication and collaboration through the bond of joint ownership between branches.

25661348_mSpringfield-Greene County Library (Missouri) began floating collections in 2007, and Lisa Sampley, Collection Services Manager, says she cannot imagine not using floating collections now. Her experience has been that the librarians buy fewer copies of some titles now and use the saved funds to purchase additional titles that they would otherwise not be able to afford. Another plus has been greater circulation. As Sampley put it, “Because materials are more readily available, they check out more.”

How could one argue against these advantages? Looking more closely, however, there are some drawbacks — or at least perceived drawbacks. Redistribution becomes a major issue: “We don’t have any room on the shelves for these items! How do we get them to another branch where there’s shelf space?” Branch collections can no longer be tailored to meet the needs of specific population groups, staff at branch libraries have little or no input as to what is in their collection, and portions of the collection can become unbalanced: “What happened to all the picture books?” “How did we get so much science fiction on the shelves?” Weeding can fall into the hands of busy front line staff, who may not recognize the value of individual items. Finally, patrons have a tendency to return items to a branch near a major road they travel or close to work, out of convenience, rather than to their usual library.

One library’s experience is that branches with high circulation become inundated with materials while those with low checkouts tend to notice their collection getting smaller and smaller. Another issue is with staff time. Much is made of saved staff time after implementing floating collections, but a survey1 revealed that several libraries were unhappy with the amount of time spent on managing collections, especially redistribution efforts. Overall, the redistribution issue is widely accepted as the most significant drawback.

What about circulation statistics? It is generally accepted that floating collections lead to an increase in checkouts—and the experience of many libraries tends to bear this out. However, the facts are inconclusive. Noel Rutherford, Collection Development Manager at Nashville Public Library, found that yes, checkouts went up—for some portions of the collection. However, for other areas or types of material, circulation decreased. Rutherford reported that following their late 2012 implementation of floating collections, some branches in her system experienced a more than 50% drop in circulation of large-type materials and more than 40% decrease in checkouts of AV materials.2 After much analysis and consideration, Nashville Public Library discontinued floating collections in late 2014.

22992147 - library with stack of books opened.The survey mentioned above, of over 100 library respondents, found that there is an almost equal divide between the pro and con camps on the concept of floating collections.3 So, what’s a library to do? Should we float collections or give them a permanent home? The answer isn’t simple. Prepare to take a good look at your library: its needs, user makeup, and objectives. Your answers to the following questions will help you determine whether your library is a good candidate for floating collections.

  1. Is your district suburban, with branches that serve similar types of patrons? Many librarians suggest that floating fits best in districts that have fairly similar clientele from branch to branch.
  2. Do you have a main library or central resource center, along with branches that all serve a somewhat distinct demographic group? If so, floating may lead to mixed results — working well for some branches and not well for others.
  3. What collections do you have that would not be desirable to float?
  4. Is participation from branch staff valuable in shaping collections? How important are tailored collections and branch-specific selections of materials?
  5. Is your district prepared to undertake a vigorous weeding program prior to implementing floating collections? Many librarians report that a thorough weeding effort prior to starting leads to greater satisfaction.
  6. Do one or more branches serve a geographic area and/or population that would benefit from a collection targeted at specific interests, needs, and usage patterns that are distinct from the remainder of your district?
  7. What place is there for low-circulating types of materials in your district? Does it matter where they are housed?
  8. Do you perhaps want to test the waters by initially floating small or specific portions of your materials?
  9. Can you develop a plan prior to implementation so that you can be proactive rather than reactive in dealing with the challenges of floating collections? Lisa Sampley at Springfield-Greene County Library wishes she had done more investigation and planning to deal with likely issues.
  10. Last but not least, what are other districts similar to yours doing? Why reinvent the wheel when you can tap into the rich experience of colleagues at other libraries? Sometimes the best flow of information starts during a library conference social hour.

Abby Hargreaves is a recent MLIS graduate and blogger who formerly worked at a large suburban library district with floating collections. She summed up the issue nicely with these comments from her library blog, 24 Hour Library:

The goal of floating collections is to create greater variety. This is especially important for smaller branches. So, with a static collection, if patrons are the kind of people who prefer to browse to look for something to read, especially in small libraries and especially if the patron prefers a specific genre, their options will be limited.

But what about patrons who prefer to visit a library knowing what they want to get? As someone with a lengthy to-be-read list, this is often my strategy. Floating collections make this challenging. I can check the online catalog, of course, before I leave for the library to go pick it up. But if the book is currently living at a library that’s a bit distant, I have three options: going to that distant library, putting it on hold and waiting two or three days for it to reach me, or going with something else.

So, this is why I don’t have a strong opinion either way about floating collections — or, rather, I have strong opinions both ways and they create this neutral space between them like the center of a rope in tug-of-war.

A Zen librarian might wonder, “What is the sound of one collection floating?” The Buddha would respond, “Be awake. Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” And so we shall!

1 Weber, Kate E. The Benefits and Drawbacks of Working with Floating Collections: The Perceptions of Public Librarians. A Master’s Paper for the M.S. in L.S. degree. March, 2014. School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 27

2 Rutherford, Noel. “To float or not to float?” Library Journal, April 1, 2016, p. 47

3 Weber, Kate E. The Benefits and Drawbacks of Working with Floating Collections: The Perceptions of Public Librarians. A Master’s Paper for the M.S. in L.S. degree. March, 2014. School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. p. 43

Paul Maya party


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

The Visible and the Invisible

By Lauren Lee, M.Ln.

10679235_mOne of the absolute pleasures of my job is the “requirement” that I visit libraries (and librarians) each and every month. This year so far, I have been to 29 libraries in nine states. Attending four conferences added two more states to my running total, while vacation added both a state and a library (yes, I even visit libraries when I’m on vacation). And if our only blizzard of the year hadn’t intervened, I could have added one more state and two more libraries! What a privilege it is to see so much of what our profession has to offer!

Highlights have included:

  • Collections that made me say “I’d love to be a patron of this library”
  • Nonfiction collections that looked vibrant and alive
  • Creative displays to encourage passersby to pick up books on impulse
  • Colorful children’s rooms with incredibly creative artwork (and children engaged in play and reading)
  • Maker spaces with recording studios and the now-requisite 3D printers
  • Music rooms with instruments and listening spaces
  • Incredible architectural details in buildings both new and old (and best of all, buildings that blend the two together)

Anyone who thinks public libraries are dying has not been to a public library lately. If they had, they would have seen people waiting for the doors to open, children crowded in for story-time, and ranges of shelving for books on hold for avid readers. They certainly haven’t heard the statistics for digital media downloads or the constant replacement of test preparation materials.

Many of my visits take me to “lower levels” or separate buildings, where technical services departments lie hidden away. The general public has no idea of the labor that goes on here behind the scenes. They don’t see the pallets of boxes or the “corrals” of book trucks (sometimes even cleverly named!). They don’t understand the intricacies of OCLC records or RFID encoding. They may even think that all those colored dots and labels are just for fun (while vendors ponder whether they are a unique form of torture).

44906029_mSo, let’s send up a cheer for invisible technical services workers everywhere! You order, you unpack, you catalog, you process, you de-process, you organize, you pay bills. You make it possible for materials to be found by their readers/viewers/listeners. You may be changing lives and you don’t even know it. Thank you for your hard, and sometimes tedious, work!

I will close with a reference question that arises from my constant perusal of spine labels: Why do some libraries use “X” as the call number prefix for juvenile (I’m talking about you, California)? The most common prefix is “J” for juvenile. I’ve seen some C’s for children’s titles. However, no one has been able to explain to me why “X” was chosen. If any of you can shed light on this technical services mystery, I will be forever grateful. And maybe I’ll come visit your library. After all, there are still a few states that I haven’t visited.




Lauren Lee is approaching her 40th year as a librarian, with more than half of that spent at Brodart. Although she rarely gets to select now, she loves life on the road, visiting as many public libraries as possible. Click here for more.


By: Paul Duckworth, M.L.S.

pexels-photo-264635Every library’s collection needs to be weeded. Here at Brodart, our collection development experts have decades of combined direct experience working at public and school libraries. We weeded—and weeded again. We survived. The collections thrived. Don’t object, don’t complain, weeding books need not be a pain!

We’ve got a few tips to help you dive into those book stacks!

  • Make it a habit. Build weeding into your workweek in the same way you schedule meetings, projects, and lunch hours. Try it: 30 minutes, two times a week. Or, how about 15 minutes a day?
  • Get practical. Your shelves may be close to 90% full—or more. Shoot for no more than 75% capacity. Ignore all the objections you hear going through your mind. As Shia LaBeouf would say, “Just do it!”
  • Remember that you are a professional. You have training, experience, and good judgment. So arm yourself with courage and conviction. If there’s a good reason for every book, then there’s also a valid reason for culling some titles from your collection.
  • There’s only so much space. It’s time to accept it: It’s a real world with limits.

It is good practice to maintain written policies and procedures. Educate all staff and board members so they understand the reasons for weeding. To avoid misunderstandings and minimize objections, be sure to communicate with your public openly, clearly, and positively. Be prepared for negative feedback and bad PR–step in right away with cool heads and factual information to support your claims.

59256631 - classmate classroom sharing international friend conceptKnow your community and their needs. You are going to make mistakes—no one is perfect. Just remember that different feelings and perspectives exist among users and other staff. It’s important to listen, respect, and communicate. Consider sharing your intentions with patrons by posting signs that announce your weeding efforts and encourage input. “We’re making room for the new books that people want, Thanks for caring enough about the library to speak with me. Books are vital to our community. We focus on keeping them up-to-date, useful, and appealing. We sincerely welcome your suggestions for materials to add to our collection.”

Expecting proprietary collection analysis software to take care of the weeding process is magical thinking. Electronic data will save time and help you, but doesn’t take into account your decisions about usage thresholds, age cutoffs, and other parameters.

Keep your collection fresh, up-to-date, appealing to the eye, and rich in variety. Don’t allow new books to be hidden on shelves that are crammed tight with old, worn out, unappealing titles.

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and many resources are available to help you:

  1. The CREW Manual, tried and true since the late 1970’s, has been revised more than once since 2000. It is available online at Click here for article
  1. The recent book by Rebecca Vnuk, The Weeding Handbook (2015), has been well-received. ISBN: 9780838913277
  1. Making a Collection Count (2013), by Holly Hibner and Mary Kelly is an intelligent resource for collection management, including weeding. ISBN:  9781843347606

2 books


Paul Maya party


Nothing brings a smile to Paul Duckworth’s face quite like a good book, a long walk, and the unmatched beauty of country life. Click here for more.

Hipster Trends 2

Mary Jane: What’s a Library To Do?

By Fern Hallman, M.Ln.

44186145_m.jpgAn extremely popular topic right now, both in the news and in publishing, is marijuana. At least 26 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form, and several other states may soon follow.

How does your library handle a tricky subject like this?

Publishers are taking advantage of this movement. There are lots of titles coming out about growing cannabis, cooking with it, healing with it, and legalizing it. There are also several books about starting your own marijuana-related business.


Click here for article on State Marijuana Laws in 2017

Some librarians take the approach that if their patrons are requesting titles on a particular topic, it’s their job to make them available. As a matter of fact, some library systems base their selections directly on patron demand. Others feel that it’s a waste of money and that books like these will “walk away” after one or two circulations. If your patrons are interested and your budget allows, here are some examples of the most recent books on marijuana.

book 1 mockupCannabis Pharmacy: The Practical Guide to Medical Marijuana
By: Michael Backes
ISBN: 9780316464185   NYP 12/05/2017

Cannabis for Chronic Pain: A Proven Prescription for Using Marijuana to Relieve Your Pain and Heal Your Life
By:  Ray Ivker
ISBN: 9781501155888   NYP 09/12/2017

book 2 mockupThe Cannabis Grow Bible: The Definitive Guide to Growing Marijuana for Recreational and Medicinal Use
By:  Greg Green
ISBN: 9781937866365   NYP 08/29/2017

Idiot’s Guides: Starting & Running a Marijuana Business
By: Debby Goldsberry
ISBN: 9781465462060

book 3 mockup


Marijuana Edibles: 40 Easy & Delicious Cannabis-Infused Desserts
By: Laurie Wolf
ISBN: 9781465449641

Big Book of Buds Greatest Hits: Marijuana Varieties from the World’s Best Breeders
By: Ed Rosenthal
ISBN: 9781936807321


More conservative libraries may want to stick with titles like these, which cover the basics in a fairly straightforward, uncontroversial way:

book 4 mockupLegalizing Marijuana: Promises and Pitfalls
By: Margaret Goldstein
ISBN: 9781467792431

Is Marijuana Harmful?
By: Bradley Steffans
ISBN: 9781682820971


Marijuana: A Reference Handbookbook 5 mockup
By:  David Newton
ISBN: 9781440850516

Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis
By: Joe Dolce
ISBN: 9780062499912


Whether you choose to provide these books for your patrons or not, it’s certainly a question for you to consider. Some patrons may regard your library as being more current and relevant when your collection reflects emerging trends and changes in public opinion.




Fern has worked for Brodart as a Collection Development Librarian since 1990. She also did a stint as a reference librarian in the CNN newsroom and is married to a newspaper librarian. Click here for more.