Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some Consequences of the County's "Floating" Library Book Collection

At our request, the Fairfax Library Advocates has provided a short description of the County's new "floating" book collection and some of its consequences that we provide below.  Please respond in the comments section of if you have a thought to contribute to the discussion.   


In the Spring of 2013 Fairfax County Public Library embarked on a new procedure to save money. That procedure was called floating.  Previously books checked out from other branches were returned to their "home" library.  Under the new procedure, books now "float" and that means they stay in the branch they are returned to.  If a library patron borrows a book from Reston Regional and returns it to Lorton Library, the books stays at Lorton Library.   Previously it would have come "home" to Reston Regional.

There are some unanticipated consequences of floating.  Library collections have become unbalanced when more books are taken from a branch than are returned to that branch.  When more books were returned to a branch which did not have space on its shelves for the additional books, they were transferred.   A significant percentage, 27%, were discarded.  Some libraries have lost large parts of their collections as their books have floated away, including collections donated to that specific library branch by their Friends of the Library members. 

A number of library staffers and Friends of the Library have been having a discussion about floating this week and we would like to open the discussion up to include other library staffers and patrons.  There are multiple issues regarding floating and I hope in the course of the conversation, we will cover those issues pro and con.  Please post your comments to the bottom of this article.  You can do so anonymously if you wish.

If you have friends who would also like to participate in the discussion, please send them a link to this article.

Marcia Kestenbaum
Fairfax Library Advocates

32 comments:

  1. Where did you get this information?

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    1. Specifically, which information?

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    2. That 27% of the "floating" books get discarded due to lack of shelf space

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    3. Discards have nothing to do with shelf space. It would be better to strike out this sentence as it confuses the discussion.

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    4. For the 27% figure, see pdf page 31 of the July Library board package for the list of "Tech Ops Central Transfers FY2014" document.
      http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/aboutthelibrary/2014/july2014boardpackage.pdf

      See Library Board package May, pdf page 70, 71 for number of transfers to balance the floating collection.
      http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/library/aboutthelibrary/2014/may2014boardpackage2.pdf

      I recommend Library Board packages for your reading pleasure.

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    5. The author makes the claim that "When more books were returned to a branch which did not have space on its shelves for the additional books, they were transferred. A significant percentage, 27%, were discarded" - Either he/she backs it up with objective evidence or retracts it!

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    6. Please read the Library Board package from July, pdf page 31 (29 on the document), to find the "Tech Ops Central Transfers FY2014" and you will see the 27% of the floating items were transferred and discarded. I can't post a link here, it won't go through. Google FAIRFAX COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY BOARD OF TRUSTEES and click on the line that lists packages and agendas for July, 2014. The evidence is from FCPL. I recommend reading Library Board packages.

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    7. Thank you for pointing out the source. However this data has nothing to do with "floating" circulation. The table you referred to lists, by branch, the number of books sent to Tech-Ops and processed - either reassigned (to another branch?) or discarded by Tech Ops. Another table lists the reason for discarding - damaged, lease etc. Shortage of shelf space, btw, is not listed as a reason....

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    8. Actually the document, "Tech Ops Central Transfers FY2014" was part of a larger discussion of balancing the collection due to imbalances created by floating. Fairfax City, George Mason, Sherwood and Tysons all lose books because of floating. Centreville, Dolley Madison and Patrick Henry end up with a glut of books, according to FCPL documents and according to staff at those branches. The books that won't fit on their shelves must be transferred and 27% end up discarded, according to that document. I find it useful to go by FCPL documents and also by staff observations.

      Actually I was hoping to have more librarians who have positive experience of floating make comments. That would be useful to me.

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  2. In the second paragraph -- it's not fair to say "unanticipated" consequences. These outcomes were very much anticipated and acknowledged during the transition to a floating collection. They are also well-documented in the library professional literature. The benefits of floating are also well-documented, and more libraries are moving to this collection methods. The nation's flagship public library, The New York Public Library, has had great success with floating. Most importantly: floating collections allow the community to shape the collection much more directly. The following link is interesting reading.
    http://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/03/19/sneaky-ways-you-can-shape-our-collections

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  3. Folks--I think this could be a much richer discussion if, instead of nitpicking the post & each other's comments, contributors offered alternative ideas, information, insights, etc.
    We'd all benefit more from those kinds of comments.
    Thank you, Terry Maynard, Blog Coordinator

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    1. It's not nitpicking to point out significant errors or misconceptions in the original post.

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  4. Here is a very good discussion on the benefits of a floating collection.

    http://www.readersadvisoronline.com/ranews/mar2010/bartlett.html

    The article is written by the collection manager at a well-respected library system. (In the library profession, we're all kinda jealous of the Ohio library system.)

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  5. I've worked at two large library systems, both floating. The benefits of floating the collection (my professional opinion) far outweigh the challenges.

    Why float the library collection? It just works (better).
    -- In a floating collection, books move only when and where they’re requested/needed.
    -- Books spend far less time in transit, since they don’t have to “go home” = more availability for patrons.

    Better for the Patron: because books move only when requested:
    -- Patrons control movement of the collection
    -- Patrons themselves tailor the collection at their home library branch
    -- Branches overall have a more eclectic collection

    Better for the Library:
    -- Unifies the library system: “One Library, One Collection”
    -- Reduces risk of small branches being “read out” (patrons don’t revisit libraries that always have the same books on the shelves)
    -- Reduces workload, shipping costs, wear-and-tear

    What get lost in the noise: the simple fact that patrons are more in charge of a floating collection than librarians are.

    Sometimes we librarians feel a sting when we realize our patrons control book placement on a far greater scale than we do.

    But I think it's a "win" for patrons, and reduced risk of bad collection development decisions.

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  6. If the main argument for floating is that community branches get more books then
    the answer to that is to increase the library budget so that EVERY
    branch has a diverse, well stocked collection

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  7. I am not a fan of floating. It has made it impossible to have meaningful collection development/maintenance in any branch. Numerous special books which had been carefully preserved at one branch have turned up discarded because they floated to another branch without the understanding / perspective needed not to trash them.

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    1. But it works *against* the library system to tend micro-collections when the library system is trying to meet the public's demand for MEGA-circulation. I mean that literally: FCPL circulation is in the MILLIONS, so books that contribute only one or two checkouts per year don't really have a place.

      And here's the kicker: if a *professional librarian* at another branch doesn't have "the understanding / perspective" on a particular book, then that book probably doesn't belong in a public library.

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    2. I have heard it said that no librarian can or should question another librarian's judgement when culling a book. I have a problem with that.

      Having seen last copies of some profoundly important works discarded this year from FCPL, I find your comments narrow at best. A decade ago we had 2,747,313 holdings. Now we are down to 2,373,578. While some of that loss is from wear and damage and the unwillingness of the Board of Supervisors to adequately fund the library to replace damaged books, many of those holdings that were discarded by library staff whose judgement I question. The Board of Supervisors needs to provide funding to fill vacant staff positions so our library can function in a way that a population of 1.1 million residents need. They also need to restore the collection.

      The very well educated people in this county deserve more than pulp fiction.

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    3. Just because a librarian in one branch is not aware of the significance of a particular book does not mean that the book should be trashed. Different staff have different areas of knowledge. One branch may have kept a book which is indeed important but which a librarian at a different branch may not be familiar with. There are also drastically different philosophies and attitudes among librarians when it comes to weeding. Some a much quicker to toss anything with a low usage while others are much more conservative about preserving books of cultural significance. When each branch had a distinct collection the depth was more likely to be maintained.

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    4. Branches aren't tossing single copies anymore, no matter what they are. Once the system is down to four or fewer copies branches are required to send those up to Collection Services for review if they are being considered for weeding. You are welcome to disagree about contrasting philosophies, and right to do so, but please be aware that individual branches don't have that power or responsibility.

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    5. If our very well-education public doesn't check out a book (i.e., low-use), doesn't that mean it's *not* culturally significant?

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    6. Numerous single copies/last copies are being weeded by FCPL. Some of those are indeed books of cultural importance. Simply because a book is not checked out within a given time limit does not mean it is not important. Some other library systems have a much longer period before considering pulling a book as inactive. There are books which should be kept regardless of how often they are checked out.

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    7. The surrounding library systems don't cull books for low demand until they haven't been checked out for five years. One librarian I spoke to at an Alexandria library said they only cull nonfiction for low demand for poor condition or for lack of shelf space. They keep their nonfiction. They also keep last copies of fiction as well.

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    8. To Anon 8:26:

      Branches may not be tossing last copies, but let me assure you they are being tossed by Technical Operations. Nice books, too.

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    9. Branches may not be tossing last copies, but let me assure you they are being tossed by Technical Operations. Nice books, too.

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    10. If you have proof of this, I would love to see it. Everything at this point is he-said, she said.

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    11. You want to see my collection of last copies? Where do you want to meet? When?

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  8. Floating has led to significant imbalances in collections from branch to branch. I find that my local branch has repeatedly been completely out of a certain author or subject which would had been available there prior to floating. What happens to be on the shelf at any given time seems to be a total fluke. I find myself placing lots more reserves and having to wait for things I had usually found available before floating.

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  9. Let's get back to the discussion about floating, Just how much money was saved by not having to move the books back to their home branches? And what was the saved money spent on? If it was spent on anything. You have to calculate in how much was spent putting holds on books that had floated away.

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  10. The concept, as presented to the public, was supposed to save money by reducing the amount of materials delivered to the branches 5 days a week. Since they did not, at least I don't think, reduce the number of days libraries receive books the only way to cut costs in this area is by reducing the number of vehicles and/or staff that deliver the books. I guess the question is how many fewer vehicles now deliver to the branches and how much money does this actually save? I think your question about what saved money is being spent on is a good one.

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  11. There are fewer bins of delivery arriving at each branch daily now. But because of imbalances caused by floating some branches are receiving and others sending bins full of overflow books from overstuffed branches. Now there is also the sending of boxes of books between branches under the new transfers system. Or sending boxes of books to Tech Ops if no other branch wants them. And there are the bins of library discards sent to the County warehouse by branches whose Friends do not want discards for their sales.
    There is also the occasional bin of handout publications from the Parks , adult education ,
    library monthly calendars. By no means has delivery been eliminated by floating. And it seem like the need for transporting holds to fill gaps in branch collections is increasing. There is also the consideration that in many branches the delivery was processed by volunteer labor - often Seniors or special needs youth who were given meaningful work at their local library. So reducing delivery did not reduce the need for paid labor so much
    ( since it was done by volunteers) but it did eliminate much of the work done by library volunteers and result in many longtime volunteers being told their services were no longer needed. That was a loss to those Seniors and others who served the library faithfully for years as well as a loss of a vital connection to the community for the library.

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Your comments are welcome and encouraged as long as they are relevant, constructive, and decent.