Turning Over a New Leaf

By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS

66735564 - staff turnover word cloudWhether you are in a library with a smaller, mostly public-service staff, or a larger system with a dedicated collection development department, the problems are the same. Just when you think you’ve assembled your dream team and everything is running like a well-oiled machine, opportunity knocks and staff leave for greener pastures – other libraries or other departments. Or you may have a hiring freeze and find yourself having to do more with less. For whatever reason, turnover can be a problem, both for the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Those entering new libraries or departments can feel their excitement turn to horror when they discover it’s been years since anyone updated policies and procedures, or that collections haven’t been weeded or kept pace with circulation trends.

Managers and co-workers facing vacancies may realize that over-reliance on dedicated staff has left them totally in the dark when the “institutional memory” leaves or retires. And few of us have the luxury of a succession plan.

Over the course of my career, I’ve been in all of these situations and asked myself:

  • Who should order what, when, why, and in what quantities?
  • When was the last time continuations and standing order profiles were updated?
  • Is collection spending and shelf space in keeping with collection usage?
  • In essence, why do we do what we do in the way we are doing it?

48356021_sWhen faced with questions like these that may seem daunting, it’s important to remember although trite, it’s often true—challenges can be opportunities.

Whether you are teaching yourself or training replacement staff, now may be a good time to examine and rework how your collection is built and maintained. Sometimes a vacancy can necessitate a reevaluation of all staff and their contribution to the organization. Similarly, this may be the time to make a sea change in a new workplace.

Not everyone comes to the table with the same skills and interests, and some may gravitate more toward public services, technical services, or particular collection areas. The best employees do what they love and love what they do. If possible, play to people’s strengths: make the job fit the person.

If not enough staff (or your new hire) have the right collection development skills or passion, can you shuffle staff responsibilities or look toward automating processes?

Putting more authors and series on standing orders and continuations can help shift the focus on important debuts and sleeper hits and allow more time for public programming, policy-making, and administrative tasks.


Chances are, your holds list does not always reflect titles from print reviews. Your clientele hear about new materials on radio programs, network television, podcasts, and blogs.  Library staff need to listen, watch, and read broadly to keep up on trends. Creating targeted selection tools out of the journals and bestseller lists that are important to your library will free up time to follow newsfeeds and social media. Lack of staff time or interest can also lead to ordering prepublication titles too late, or not anticipating sufficient copies. What types of notification lists could make you proactive rather than reactive regarding patron demand? What lists could streamline your selection or provide help in problematic collections and genres?

Are you running out of space or faced with an obsolete collection? Armed with usage reports from your ILS, you can analyze your holdings and determine which areas to grow and shrink. Could a collection builder list help you strengthen underserved areas?

61242607 - young plant in the morning light on nature background

Think of turnover as turning over a new leaf. It can lead to a new, exciting era with efficient staff workflow, smart selection, and useful collections.

How do you and your library tackle staff turnover? Share your thoughts and experiences below!


stephaniecampbellStephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.

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