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Library to reduce book collection by over 20%

By Jonathan Meilaender

Plans to renovate the William Latimer Memorial Library are proceeding as expected, with a groundbreaking on the library additions coming April 25.

Not only will the physical space of the library undergo a transformation, change is coming to the collection of books and resources as well.

Libraries generally keep their collections up to date and maintain space for new acquisitions by periodically weeding out little-used or superfluous material. That hasn’t happened for some time at Saint Vincent, according to Dr. John Smetanka, Vice President of Academic Affairs, who spoke to The Review on behalf of the library’s director and assistant director.

“It’s been over a decade where the library used to have an annual process where they looked at books that didn’t circulate. So we’re behind in that process,” he said.

A review of the collection, Smetanka continued, has shown that it contains a great many duplicates and outdated textbooks. In addition, many bound periodicals are available electronically or can be digitized, and some are infected with mildew.

Dr. George Leiner, professor of philosophy, serves on the faculty advisory committee for the renovation process.

He helped draft a set of recommendations for “deaccession,” the formal name for the process of removing books from circulation and donating or potentially discarding them.

“I’ve worked very closely with my colleagues in the humanities to develop a recommended process for guiding the selections of volumes that we want to retain in the library, and then a policy for acquisition going forward,” he said.

Such a procedure, as Dr. Smetanka noted, hasn’t existed or been consistently applied in the past. The set of recommendations drawn up by Leiner and his colleagues stipulates that bound periodicals should be reviewed first, followed by duplicates or damaged volumes. Only then will rarely circulated or academically outdated books, like old textbooks, be examined. But the plan insists that deaccessioned volumes not be immediately discarded. Instead, they will be “held in the Library to allow sufficient time for the departments and other members of the academic community to select those they would like to add to their department of private collections.” That includes students as well as faculty members.

A number of works and collections are being donated to outside groups as well, Smetanka indicated.

“Some groups have come in and found some collections that we don’t have a reason to keep but they wanted. A religious order came in and saw the back issues of their orders journal. We were going to get rid of them, so we donated the journals to them,” he said.

The new process is particularly necessary because the library’s collection will see a substantial reduction in size as part of the renovation. That’s because the new library will include roughly twenty percent less shelf space, according to Smetanka. That space will be used for seating and study areas. That shelf space reduction will exist despite a move to “compact shelving,” greatly reducing the area necessary for the same amount of books.

Leiner explained how space will be saved by removing aisles between shelves and compressing them against each other.

“So if we have four, five shelves here, those would be compressed down, and we would have room for nine shelves, with one opening. So when you want to enter between shelf unit seven and eight, you open up the space there [by sliding the shelves] and then you compress it,” he said.

Most contemporary libraries use some such system, he added. More than twenty percent of the collection might be deaccessioned,

Smetanka explained, because shelf space isn’t the only factor.

“We may reduce the collection even more than the available shelving, just because we want to have room for new things,” he said.

In any case, though, bound periodicals and duplicates will account for around half of the discarded materials, Smetanka noted.

Dr. John Aupperle, campus minister and lecturer of theology, holds that the reduction in shelf space is reasonable in light of current needs.

“It is clear that technology is making library science much for streamlined, and I might add, accessible. If that is the reason for 20% less shelf space it makes sense,” he said. “My experience with our library has always been positive and helpful. I have every belief and expectation that the new library will continue that tradition.”

Photos: John Wojtechko

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