<span class="padlock_text"></span> v28 #4 Let’s Get Technical — Nancy Drew and the Case of the Lost Books?

by | Oct 2, 2016 | 0 comments

Column Editors:  Stacey Marien  (Acquisitions Librarian, American University Library)

and Alayne Mundt  (Resource Description Librarian, American University Library)

In our previous article, “Let’s Get Technical — What to Do With All Those Damaged Books” ATG v.27#3, June 2015, we described how we dealt with a backlog of damaged books.  In this article, we explain how we addressed the issue of thousands of lost books in our catalog.

The Situation

For years, the circulation department at American University Library would change the location of a book to lost for a number of reasons.  If a book was never returned, it would be marked overdue and then eventually changed to lost.  If a book could not be found, it would be marked missing and then after a set period of time and multiple subsequent searches, eventually marked as lost.  In 2009, the Circulation Services Manager embarked on an ambitious project to inventory the entire main stacks collection.  Over the course of the next several years, thousands more lost books were identified as a result of this inventory project.  There had never been a systematic method to replace the lost books, so the Acquisitions Librarian decided this was a worthwhile project.  In order to replace the thousands of books, more money from within the materials budget needed to be allocated for lost books.  From 2009 to 2015, over $57,000 was spent to replace lost books.  The Acquisitions librarian expects the amount to stabilize around $5,000 each year going forward now that the backlog of lost books has been cleaned up.

The Problem

The backlog of lost books existed because there was no system in place to decide whether the books should be replaced or not.  Books that were marked as lost were never removed from the catalog, nor reviewed by collection managers for replacement.  The replacement project initially started by having the subject specialist librarians look at each lost book title and make the decision about whether it should be replaced or not.  The title list was generated by the Circulation Services Manager and given to the Acquisitions Librarian.  The Acquisitions Librarian would then sort the title list by call number and create separate spread sheets for each subject specialist.  The spreadsheets would be sent to each librarian with a deadline for decisions to be made.  The default decision would be to not replace the title if the Acquisitions Librarian did not receive a decision by the deadline.

It was quickly apparent that there were too many titles for the subject specialists to analyze on their own.  Some of the subject specialists wanted more information such as circulation statistics on the title to better inform their decision.  Some of the librarians were overwhelmed with the number of titles to evaluate.  It was decided that it would be best if some criteria could be applied ahead of time to decide on whether a title should be replaced.  Then the number that the subject specialists would actually have to look at would be much lower.

We have a Collection Management Team that makes joint collection related decisions, so options for initial criteria were presented to this team by the Acquisitions Librarian.

The Criteria for Automatic Replacement and/or Review

Only books that have been lost for over 1 year are considered for replacement.

Of these items, replacement is based upon these criteria:

  1. Automatically repurchase: <5 years old (by publication date) and <$100
  2. Subject Specialist consideration: circulation within the last 15 years or is <15 years old (excluding items identified in step #1)
  3. Automatically delete: no circulation over the last 15 years and is 15 years old or more

After #2 of the criteria is determined, the list is split by Circulation into two reports (items not charged and items still charged to patrons), each file with two worksheets (replace and not replace)

  1. Not charged*
  2. Replace (of the criteria, #1 and; the items on #2 determined to repurchase)
  3. Bib/MFHD/Item should be reused with a new barcode to retain circulation history
  4. Not replace (#3 and; #2 determined to not be replaced)
  5. Deletion should occur at the highest level possible (Bib/MFHD), but suppression may be used as necessary (e.g., with purchase orders attached, other active MFHD records attached)
  6. Charged**
  7. Replace (of the criteria, #1 and; the items on #2 determined to repurchase)
  8. To be treated as firm added copy orders, placed on added copy shelf
  9. New MFHD and Item records created***

iii. MFHD above lost Item record is suppressed***

  1. Not replace (#3 and; #2 determined to not be replaced)
  2. Suppression occurs at the highest level possible (Bib/MFHD)

*For not charged items, Circulation will clear all outstanding fines attached to the item records

**For charged items, Circulation will relocate them to the lost location on the MFHD and Temporary Item levels; item discharge notes will be added (e.g., Bib and MFHD are suppressed – un-suppress if returned.  Change back to auc on MFHD and item locations 9/10/14 mts)

***If it is determined that a new Bib should be utilized, the old Bib should also be suppressed

Note:  Suppression is completed by Acquisitions and confirmed by Circulation

The Process

Once a year in the Spring, the Manager of Circulation Services generates an Excel report for the Acquisitions Librarian.  The report contains several tabs that correspond to the various criteria used for evaluation.  One tab contains books that are automatically replaced.  One tab contains books that will automatically have their records deleted.  One tab contains the list of titles that the subject specialists will need to analyze.  The Acquisitions Librarian creates unique lists for each subject specialist broken down by their area of responsibility and sends out to them at the beginning of the Summer with a deadline for decision being two months from receiving the lists.  In the meantime, the acquisitions staff can start to work on the lists of titles that can be automatically replaced or those titles that will be deleted.  The workflow for replacing titles is the same as for replacing damaged books, outlined in our June 2015 column, “What to Do With All Those Damaged Books?”

The Results

For several years, we slowly and steadily eliminated the backlog.  We are now at the point where each year, there are only a few hundred titles on the lost book list and each subject specialist has fewer than 100 titles to evaluate.

One wrinkle that has occurred in this process concerns our shared retention project (as described in our columns of November 2015 and February 2016).  We now have books that are marked for retention, meaning we have to make a good faith effort in replacing them, whether they are old, or have circulated, or not.  We also have titles that are marked as cultural heritage, meaning we also have to make every effort to replace the title with an exact copy, since we are committing to retain that title indefinitely.  Often the subject specialists decide to replace a lost book with a new edition, but with our books marked for retention or cultural heritage, we have to try to replace the exact copy.  These new examples of lost books have made the process a bit more complicated, with more spreadsheets, but luckily not many titles that are falling into these categories so far.

One other way that we replace books that fall outside this process is when a patron pays the fine for the lost book.  A special yellow form with title information is routed directly from circulation to an acquisitions staff member for automatic replacement.  This is a separate workflow from what is described above because the patron has acknowledged the loss of the book and has paid for it.  Therefore, we will replace the title.

It’s been a satisfying experience to clean up the backlog of lost books over the years.  Dealing with the lost books in a timely manner has both cleaned up our catalog as well as focusing the budget money on replacing those items that are truly used.


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