Through all my years as a librarian and the different roles I have had, I have always worked with reference collections, usually pretty closely. Until recently, where my role has been working with the virtual more than print of any type.
But as part of my appraisal this year, one of my goals was to weed the reference collection at our biggest branch. This collection has filled 17 bays of 5 shelves each.
It has been quite a few years since it has been weeded well, beyond replacing superseded editions. And it shows. I went in expecting to weed maybe up to 40% of the collection. So far, I have weeded just over half of the collection and the proportion of the collection that had been weeded out is over 60%.
It may have been much higher, but that included our motor manual collection – which coincidentally is the best used part of reference and which, therefore, will not be hitting the lending shelves or withdrawals anytime soon. And there are other classic titles too, which are much too precious for their unique content, that likewise will not make that journey.
The weeding hasn’t been hard to do either. I’m a chucker rather than a hoarder, but I think that even a hoarder would be hard pressed to keep more than 50% of the collection. The amount of dust accumulated on each title shows how little the majority of the collection is used in these days of online information domination.
Fortunately, a lot of what I have weeded has gone straight to our lending collection. It is good quality information, if just a bit dated now, but I’m sure that most of it will do well there, much better than it has done in reference in recent times.
Which brings me back to the hybrid idea. Print reference is not dead in my library, not yet, but it is no longer the force that it was. Now it seems that print reference is a backstop to our online resources and the internet, whereas it was always the other way around. Now its where you go, when its too hard or really to obscure to find something online. And even that’s changing.
For a long time, when talking collection development, we talked about the hybrid library – finding the balance between print and electronic resources. When it comes to reference type material, the scales are now definitely tipped in favour of the electronic.
Its funny though. Even though I work on the library’s virtual spaces and spend a lot of my time online and love it, it has been surprising in a way to see the stalwart of information services – the reference collection, whittled away so, in importance as well as in collection size. I have long appreciated going to the reference shelves and being virtually guaranteed of finding a book that would help with that immediate user need. I think that I still have some of the romance of the book attached to the librarian in me.
So as our print reference collections dwindle, alongside their corresponding budgets, I say goodbye to the hybrid library. Online is now dominant in the world of reference, both in the eyes of staff and users. This is not a bad thing, as there are things online that people seek which we would likely never had in a print reference resource. But as they go, I cant help but feel a tiny bit wistful for what was.
Maybe because it was the bastion of librarian’s assistance to our users – where we could take them to discover the world of information – something that is not so easy or so common in the online world? Maybe its as I said before that there is romance in books and reference books are a category all of their own. Maybe its because reference books were always something special, a unique type of book not appropriate for any other location. Maybe its because each reference book was a treasure just waiting to be discovered.
I’m not sure why it is, I just know that the end of this era is coming fast and its one I will miss.
How about you?