Any librarian worth their salt will tell you that every library should have a copy of Cannery Row. Any algorithm that says it should be discarded is simply wrong.
Circulation numbers can be very useful. But they cannot tell you what people will be looking for in the future. Common sense and experience are necessary to put the list in the proper context.
A good librarian can talk knowledgeably about thousands of books. They are community treasures that are not easily replaced by algorithms. They do a lot more than just put books on the shelf. Just as there will always be bartenders, there will always be librarians.
There is a culture war going on in libraries. The old guard -- book reading, book loving librarians -- are being replaced, especially at the top, by hip "Library Scientists" who want to push ebooks, internet access terminals and even rock concerts in libraries.
Ultimately there is a balance to be struck. Budgets are tight and libraries are evolving. But if libraries are going to remain useful and relevant, they will need to provide both internet access AND copies of "Cannery Row".
That said, the guy in the article did a bad thing and he'll likely lose his job at minimum.
The trick would be between finding the difference between actually needing the book later, or just hoarding something that will never be needed again...or at least, that introduces more of a cost to keep than it would cost to dispose of it and buy it again later if it does come back into fashion.
The only exception is if you knew a school were to assign the book as required reading to an entire grade - but that's really a rare and special case.
FWIW I think there is room for curated "should read" sections in a library. Optimizing purely for use is more the purview of a bookstore. But to support that the bulk of the shelf space should be serving the broadest use possible.
It seems like one of those "big data things", looking for odd relationships between things, like vampires being more popular during Democratic presidencies and zombies being more popular during Republican ones (as a tongue-in-cheek example: http://www.mrscienceshow.com/2009/05/correlation-of-week-zom...)
The librarian in the article cited a future need to re-buy a book that was previously culled. I guess what I'm trying to work toward would be an idea of finding non-obvious signs of when certain categories of books might become more and less popular, what patterns (if any) govern that schedule, and from that, make predictions of expected cost in keeping certain books around, as opposed to selling them off immediately. I'm playing around with the idea of whether there's a better way than "current readership + age of book" to predict, to a useful degree, the probability of it being more or less popular in the future.
- Steinbeck is a major American writer (Pulitzer Prize, Nobel Prize). I feel like any library should have a complete collection of his works, if possible.
- He wrote a sequel called Sweet Thursday.If you're going to keep a copy of that, you'd best keep Cannery Row too.
- It's really thin. Like maybe 1/6 of an inch. Won't take up much space.
- It's often assigned in schools.
To be honest, I didn't like it very much. Now that I think about it, maybe the algorithm was on to something. :)
Maybe you hate A Tale of Two Cities or loathe A Handmaid's Tale, but it's important that books that make up the cultural foundation or provide relevant commentary on it are available.
If it was all about popularity the library would be jammed full of nothing but garbage by John Grisham, Dan Brown and Stephanie Meyer. It would be high-fructose all the way.
Eat your vegetables. Digest difficult, disagreeable things.
... Besides, what's the point of having books on shelves if you can't browse and find something great?
It's important to mention that a well maintained collection gets used more than one that is not reviewed. The "younger" the average age of your collection, the more it gets used. This isn't just because people don't like old books, but they don't like books that are yellowing, grey, worn, irrelevant, etc, etc. I recognize that libraries have many roles to play, but it is not the place of every library to play every role. A community public library should check out books, not store them. (There's obviously exceptions here. For example, my library maintains a local history collection).
Ultimately, for a public library there is much more going on than books. Wireless Internet, meeting rooms and simply its characteristic as a physical place (chairs, tables, etc.) are all part of why people support a library and having a new, clean and well maintained collection is part of increasing the library's appeal across all those areas.
I could certainly see the value of each community library having some space allocated to different "specialty" sections. That would make for a pretty rich loan inventory.
I've also been to many libraries that just feel like dumps and are not using space well. They have masses of cookbooks or old magazines that they call a special collection. There's a fetish surrounding "the book".
In the end this guy is arbitrarily deciding which books have value and which don't, which should ring an alarm bell for us. We might agree with what he saved, but we also don't know what he didn't feel was worth saving. That's why as systemic approach is so important.
FYI, that's the alias of choice for Sam Axe, a freelance vigilante in the TV series "Burn Notice" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Axe#Sam_Axe_as_Chuck_Finle...)
He went through a lot of trouble to make what he did illegal.
Sure, keep a few physical copies for popular classics but ebooks are clearly the solution for the long tail, and so much easier to carry.
I never encountered this attitude of 'books as product' until I came to the US. I remember going into a Borders and looking for some Dashiell Hammett books - I had been in San Francisco a few months, and Dashiell Hammett was a very famous mystery writer who came from and wrote about SF in the 1930s, so I wanted to learn more about the literary culture of the city I had moved to. the people in the store had never heard of him, didn't understand why interest in local authors would be a thing, and couldn't recommend any other bookstores because they were not really Book People, they just happened to work in a store that sold books but whose corporate culture required staff to refer to them as 'product'. This would be like going to a store that specialized in Computer Science books and having to deal with people who had never heard the names Turing, Von Neumann, or Knuth. Capitalism can be very corrosive of culture that way, Absent a reliable metric for quality, it can only rate popularity and novelty and so discounts long-term relations at the expense of short-term returns.
Amazon recommendations are often semantically on point but it will often recommend books that are merely derivative. 'Frequently bought together' is a great reminder to get some batteries or accessories for some electronic gizmo you bought, but that doesn't work so well for books, where reading one might alter your subsequent buying preferences onto a new path because you read the book and it changed your perspective in some fashion.
Admittedly a lot of my reading tends towards the obscure, so I can't blame Amazon for doing what they do if it works for the vast majority of their consumers. It's great when I want something very specific and I'm a happy regular customer, but I could happily spend hours in a second hand bookstore.
Sure physical books have their benefits (as do ebooks), however I'd much rather have an ebook than nothing, because the book was thrown in the garbage due to lack of space.
They could have used book activity records, I think.
I guess stripping personal information was too much work.
Canticle for Leibowitz
The Name of the Rose
Libraries are for everyone. Not just people with niche academic tastes living in their ivory towers. Entertaining books and regular readers are literally what keeps libraries open.
It's far more valuable to have a place where you can find less popular, harder to find items than to have yet another place full of the popular stuff. That's not to say libraries shouldn't have popular stuff but that they should have a bias towards other things. If you want to read Orson Scott Card, you can find his stuff easily, not so much so for the stuff they're culling.
It's absolutely valuable to have a place to find obscure books... but a community public library isn't that place, and isn't intended to be that place.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a classic, award-winning and relevant book. It's exactly the sort of thing a good community library should have, even if it circulates less than Danielle Steel. There is a big difference between what's important and what's popular.
Those Danielle Steel might provide some entertainment and comfort to people (nothing wrong with that). But The Making of the Atomic Bomb could launch a career or a movement, and possibly even -- we can only hope -- save the planet from destruction.
Truly obscure and unimportant books should of course be culled from circulation in a small community library. Their place is in research libraries, etc. But community libraries serve many purposes, the most important of which, in my mind, is to educate and facilitate discovery and personal growth.
Sometimes you have to give people what they don't know they need yet, not just what they think they want right now.
“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.” -- Andrew Carnegie
I don't think he was talking about romance novels.
(Interlibrary loan is a significant partial answer here, but as soon as you take ILL into your model you realize that you want to curate the set of all books owned by all libraries collectively. If you locally optimize each library individually then you get too many copies of the common books and too few of the others.)
A public library is there to serve its community. Participating in ILL is part of that mission, so reciprocating is also necessary. But the library has to optimize for its customers first and others second.
Also, used bookstores, and Internet retailers like Amazon, Ebay, etc. Not all books that are "obscure" are necessarily expensive in the "rare, hard to find, valuable" sense (although to be fair, some obviously are).
As long as a book is available within reasonable time via inter-library loan, the library system hasn't lost the book. The algorithm (or more generally, "the practice") probably needs a "consolidate" outcome in addition to "drop."
That's not entirely true, as there is a significant difference between having a book browsable on the shelf and havingnit borrowable with substantial latency via ILL, so there is a loss even if there is still some access available.
Algorithms should inform book culling decisions made by the Librarian, but they shouldn't replace the Librarian's knowledge and expertise.
How can circulation numbers take into account people who aren't using the library because it already doesn't have anything they want? I can't be alone in this, but simply looking at circulation numbers won't capture that, and piloting with a book or two from those categories won't get me back in (I probably won't notice because, after many disappointments, I've mostly stopped looking). Let an algorithm go nuts on that data without human judgement and I suspect you'll gradually put more and more people in my position, unless it's a damned smart one.
1. Regular strategic planning which includes a community survey. This is conducted by an outside firm and non-users are targeted as part of the survey. We also do focus groups.
2. Interlibrary loan. You local library can likely get titles from other libraries. This should inform the collection.
3. Patron driven acquisition. Some way of suggesting books should be available. We buy most suggestions and find that books that are suggested circ better than ones selected by staff (generally, anyway).
I disagree. A book might go out once and chance someone's life. Another might go out a hundred times and sit unread, or have a negligible impact. An algorithm can't determine this. A good librarian can.
LOL no, by that logic The da Vinci Code or Harry Potter books would be literary landmarks. Now, I enjoy a good yarn as much as anyone (and Dan Brown and JK Rowling write great yarns) but it's not like books and the book selling industry are all a giant intellectual meritocracy, marketing and commercial leverage have a lot to do with it. Certainly popularity is a useful signal, but things can be popular because they appeal to a lowest common denominator rather than because they're of great quality.
Let's take JK Rowling's Harry Potter works as an example. They're excellently crafted in terms of narrative pacing, clear characterization, and engaging storytelling. I enjoyed them hugely when I read them a few years ago, and happily spent a week or 10 days immersed in the wizarding world. Anyone who likes reading can enjoy them, and aspiring writers can learn plenty from studying them. At the same time, they're very formulaic and recycle lots of common fictional tropes --- indeed that's partly why they're worthy of study, - their very shallowness makes it easier to spot the structural features. But we would be making a mistake is took the excellent qualities as the standard of value, because the popularity of Harry Potter and its many imitators in the marketplace would have a tendency to crowd out books that excel in other areas where works of popular fiction are deficient.
It's fine for publishers and bookstores to pursue the public taste wherever it leads, but the function of the library is provide more rounded and balanced offerings whose value will span generations rather than only focusing on what's most popular. There's a lovely little library a few blocks from me that I thought I would spend one day a week in when I first saw it, but I hardly ever go there because the selection is abysmal. It's full of multiple copies of things that used to be popular, and woefully lacking in good things that were never very popular. A library's primary purpose is to be full of good books so that even if you can't find a particular work you hoped to read today (perish the thought that one might have to wait for anything...), you will have many high quality alternatives.
This is only possible of you allow librarians to do their job as curators. They should not be required to distil years of complex and highly individual literary and organizational knowledge into the sort of simplistic metrics that appeal to professional administrators. Of course, part of the problem is that some people see the intellectual and cultural diversity of libraries as a cultural threat that has the potential to undermine the status quo, and thus attack the function and independence of publicly-funded libraries in an effort to curtail rather than curate the spread of knowledge.
Why? People are much more biased than machines. If this algorithm is well written and unbiased then we may have a case of someone saving books that speak to their biases. What if it was revealed it was books about young earth, anti-vaccination, promotion of Islamic extremism, and white supremacy? Would you be so welcoming of these rebel librarians?
The nice part of the algorithm is that, in theory, it should just be looking at circulation numbers and culling appropriately. Regardless, this is all a stop-gap measure until we can get every library digital so we don't have to worry about shelf space.
And you should really be asking yourself whether circulation numbers are a good proxy for the real value that people derive from the collection. My mother used to borrow ten books at a time and barely read any of them. Building a rigorous utility-maximizing model here is impossible. Human judgement is required.
It also comes down to trust in the librarian, presumably in the interview process you try to make sure you are not hiring an outspoken Nazi. If you do hire a Nazi librarian they have many other ways of injecting their bias by inviting speakers, recommending books etc. so it is still going to be an issue even if they aren't picking what books you have.
It's odd to me that you can't see the inherent bias in saying that popularity is a proxy for literary value and designing your algorithm around that. Sure, it'll give you an unbiased insight into what's popular, but that assumes that libraries are in the business of catering to the popular taste, when we have a bustling private sector to do that for us already, which takes account of the fact that a great deal of the publishing industry's output is disposable and of only short-term interest. I mean, McDonalds is arguably the world's most popular restaurant chain, but that doesn't mean their food has significant gastronomic value, does it?
What is in the public interest, and what the public is currently interested in, are two wholly different things.
Choosing based on criteria you favor rather than equally valid or possibly more valid criteria others favor is a bias. It does not matter if you encode that bias verbally, in print, or in software. A bias is a bias is a bias.