The assorted finds of Artefact Publishing

Library minus books

Some of the top people at Victoria University of Wellington have hit upon a cunning plan. They want to get rid of 150 thousand books (about a fifth of the whole collection) in a way which requires academic staff to go through all of them at least once, and many of them a second time. By that I mean wandering the shelves finding books marked with stickers and writing a mark on the sticker.

What will happen to the books that go? Well, no one seemed to really know until it was clarified today that the books will be in off-site storage of some kind, rather than pulped, which seemed the other option considered.

The reason for getting rid of books is to make space in the library building, probably to allow the information technology people to move there and out of another building, thus saving money on rents in that other building. In other words, it is your typical cost-cutting exercise. To which I say that if your approach to a library is to cut costs by removing books, why not shut the library down, sell the books and the building that housed them, declare an end-of-day profit and never have costs again?

I would love to know how this sort of behaviour can possibly be justified by anyone other than those who see a university as a business (and I am sure there are a few smart business people who don’t run roughshod over the essence of their business in the name of money), and the question immediately arises of why such people have any power to make decisions at a university. Even the typically wishy-washy mission and values statement for the university seems to take the right side on this one:

We will actively seek ways of organising and managing ourselves that best support our teaching and research.

It is of course easier to do research when you don’t have much material to search through — why haven’t other universities figured that out yet?

Apparently the mayor of Wellington, the same evil witch who loves tarmac more than people, is one of the people who gets to appoint the Vice Chancellor, on whose shoulders responsibility for the administration of the university rests. That’s an ill omen. Books not roads!

Posted by jamie on May 5, 2004 17:29+12:00


Does this mean that the library is effectively putting a big chunk of its collection on closed reserve? If so, I don't see that it's really such a big deal. The Bodleian is a closed reserve library and the academics of Oxford seem to manage OK. (Of course, there is still the question of how quickly books can be retrieved from the closed reserve.)

Also, getting all vituperative about evil witches is a bit OTT, particularly as I'm confident the mayor has bugger-all influence on the funding of the university. Suggesting there's some sort of decision in her hands as to whether or not roads get money rather than the university is cheap rhetoric.

Attack the government for stupid funding priorities by all means, but at least attack the right branch, and maybe try to be less inflammatory about it.

Posted by: Michael Norrish on May 5, 2004 18:56+12:00

It would be like closed reserve, as far as I can tell, if only academics could access it and the books were stored far away and it took ages to get them. The whole reason for the process (termed a “relegation/deselection process” by the people in charge) is to get the books off campus.

As for evil witch Kerry Prendergast, I wasn’t trying to connect her with the library scandal in any direct fashion, and certainly it isn’t a matter of two terrible decisions which could both be reversed to no financial detriment. I agree that it does read somewhat that way, though. Oh well.

Posted by: Jamie on May 5, 2004 19:16+12:00

Although it may seem counterintuitive, librarians might even support this. A suprising amount of the collection is never referenced, by anyone, or if referenced, years occur between references; the ol' 90-10 rule coming into play.

So, while removing 20% of the collection may seem like a crying shame (and as someone who also loves the effect of big libraries, I quite understand), it may not actually affect any patrons in terms of what they are actually accessing and reading.

Posted by: Michael on May 6, 2004 09:32+12:00

Michael, that might work for public libraries, but it seems to me that in a university/research library, obscurity and infrequency of use should not be inversely proportional to value. Also, how do they know which books are used? Being issued might not be a good indicator.

Posted by: iona on May 6, 2004 14:50+12:00

Indeed, some academics have already pointed out that the deselection criterion (not having been issued in the past ten years) does not take into account the following:

Also, ten years is a very short time in terms of an academic’s career, let alone the lifetime of a library.

Posted by: Jamie on May 6, 2004 16:02+12:00

I often use books without taking them out. And some of my selections could probably be classified as "obscure". Ok, not probably. Definitely. And I don't think suggesting KP is an evil witch is over the top - just a little unfair to witches. (It's certainly not as over the top as calling a hugely diverse range of people singing and dancing a hikoi of "haters and wreckers" - but that's another story). And I've had a bad day, I'm feeling incredibly stupid, and I had to look vituperative up in the dictionary, so what would I know?

Posted by: Fi on May 6, 2004 21:42+12:00

wrong i say this is just wrong, wrong wrong.

Posted by: sue on May 9, 2004 00:38+12:00

As I read it, the description of Prenderghastly related to the omen of woe manifested by her presence in the picture. Given her performance to date, and her apparently clinical desire to elbow her way into any public forum, I think you let her off lightly. I don't see how a person with any kind of civilised sensibilities could survive in Wellington without a healthy disgust for the woman and her pathetic scrabbling. err...and the book thing: smells like the familiar "strategic" first step in cutting the level of service. The same kinda thing that's been perpetrated on our (beautiful) city library - which *is* under the jurisdiction of the perenderghast woman.

Posted by: Brendon on May 10, 2004 10:24+12:00

To clarify my first comment, the proposed situation would be like closed reserve if closed reserve had the properties of allowing only academics to access it, etc. In other words, if closed reserve were far more painful than it is.

Posted by: Jamie on May 12, 2004 18:57+12:00

Compare the following:

Posted by: Stefan on May 21, 2004 11:47+12:00