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Monograph Deselection Project

Updated 1/31/2023

Why is this project necessary?

There are three main reasons:

  1. The Davis Family Library’s shelves are functionally full, and overfull in some spots. While you’ll see empty or partially filled shelves in places, a library needs to keep roughly 20% of its shelf space clear throughout the collection in order to reshelve and shift books, which is necessary when we acquire new materials to keep the collection updated and current. The building was opened in 2004 with room for 20 years’ collections growth, but it reached capacity in only 10 years. That acceleration was due in part to an explosion in print publishing (print isn’t dead--it’s not even napping) and a resulting increase in acquisitions, and in part to non-collection functions (and non-library offices) claiming space that we would have used for shelving. So we need to make room to continue developing the collection to support Middlebury’s ever-changing curriculum and research.
  2. The collection has not been systematically reviewed as a whole in decades, if ever, and we have on our shelves materials that are outdated, superseded, and/or no longer relevant to what Middlebury does. In some cases, they’re not even accurate anymore, as science and social-science disciplines in particular have advanced. While various librarians have reviewed discrete sections over the years, a coordinated review of the full collection has not taken place.
  3. The library is short on study rooms and other useable spaces for students and faculty to work together. That need is increasing as collaborative and digital projects have become more important, and we get a fair number of requests for space we don’t have. We think we can find some room by refining the collection back to where it more accurately serves the curriculum, while addressing the two issues above.

Regular review and withdrawal of outdated or no-longer-relevant materials should be a continual activity in academic libraries, in order to keep the collection up to date, to make it easier to identify and use current materials, and to manage space. Even in the age of mushrooming electronic resources, print remains very important (more so in some disciplines than others), and we’re committed to supporting the campus community. Where print is what’s needed, that’s what we’ll have.

What's the goal?

The goal is to reclaim enough space to accommodate ten years' growth in the collection, plus whatever space we can reallocate for badly needed additional study rooms, classrooms, etc.

How much of the collection will disappear?

We haven't identified a specific target. A primary concern in this project is to maintain the collection's integrity--that is, its ability to support teaching and research at Middlebury. One of the challenges is that Middlebury's collection is especially well used; 74% of it has been checked out at some point in its history, while 55% is a more common figure among libraries that have studied usage of their collections. The remaining 26% includes materials just recently acquired, which we're obviously not going to consider eliminating. Thus, the proportion of materials that we could consider withdrawing is pretty low. 

What will this mean for me as a scholar who relies on print books?

When the project is complete, we believe, the changes actually won’t be very noticeable. You won’t be looking in vain for a copy of Romeo and JulietEssays in Experimental Logic, Arithmetica Universalis, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or Das Kapital to check out. The focus is on circulating books that haven’t circulated in a long time, that are outdated or superseded, and/or that are no longer needed at all for Middlebury’s scholarly activity. 

If I find later on that I need something you've withdrawn, how will I get it?

Depending on what you need, we can borrow it through Interlibrary Loan or repurchase it. Among the criteria for withdrawing a given title is how many other libraries have it, which reflects its availability through Interlibrary Loan. We're also willing to revisit owning something that might re-emerge as a needed work.

Large research institutions have the resources and the need to build a comprehensive collection and aim at preserving the human record. While Middlebury is every bit Harvard’s academic equal in undergraduate studies, we’re much smaller in every way, and we can provide only a collection focused on our specific curriculum and research requirements...but we are committed to obtain, one way or another, whatever someone on campus needs.

How will you decide what to withdraw?

Criteria will vary from subject to subject, as different disciplines use print books to varying degrees and in different ways, especially regarding the age of the material. Specific criteria include, in no particular order:

  • How many times something's been checked out.
  • How many times something's been placed on reserve.
  • How many times something on reserve has been checked out.
  • Age.
  • Currency of the information.
  • Length of time in the collection.
  • Importance to the discipline.
  • Availability from other libraries.
  • Whether something was acquired because it was specifically requested by someone other than a librarian.
  • Electronic availability (less important in disciplines that rely more on print, like the humanities).

Will we have a chance to weigh in on the decisions?

Yes! We want as much input as we can get.

How do I give input on the decisions?

Periodically, your library liaison will let you know that a list of titles on particular subjects is available for review and comment. In that email will be a link to that list of books. You can also use the menu to the left to browse through the shelf lists. All of the lists have columns with checkboxes for you to request that we retain or withdraw individual titles.

Detailed instructions on how to give input on what to keep and what to withdraw

Can I ask to have a book if it ends up being withdrawn?

Yes! Along with the columns to request that we retain or withdraw titles, you'll also see a column in which you can enter your name. If we do end up withdrawing that title, we'll get it into your hands. Do note, though, that if more than one person asks to have it, we'll conclude that there's enough interest in the book to keep it in the library.

Why am I seeing only older books on the list I'm reviewing?

The lists are pre-filtered to show only the titles that aren't already marked to retain. We're automatically keeping the most recent titles, and they're hidden so you don't have to spend time scrolling through hundreds or thousands of them to find the ones you might want to ask us to keep. If you'd like to see everything, though, you can unhide the titles we're keeping by using the instructions under the "How To Customize View" tab at the lower left of each title list.

You've said you're automatically keeping the most recent volumes. What does "most recent" mean?

This question has a simple answer and a complicated answer. The simple answer is that you can see the retention criteria relating to age and usage here. Please keep in mind that the criteria are for automatically keeping materials; nothing is being automatically withdrawn.

The complicated answer is that "most recent" varies from discipline to discipline because of variability in what are called information lifecycles. In some scholarly disciplines, the creation and advancement of new knowledge happens faster than in others, and knowledge in those disciplines also becomes outdated faster. Our automatic-retention criteria vary from 25 years in the humanities down to 10 years in many sciences, and even 5 years in medicine. In medicine, not only can some information be rapidly outdated, but outdated information can actually be medically dangerous. That's more of a concern in medical or hospital libraries than at a liberal-arts college like Middlebury, but we try to keep up with the field. We don't want to retain on the shelves medical information that's been superseded or disproven. The history of medicine, however, isn't clinical or directly related to medical care, so we treat those materials more like history than clinical medicine. Again, remember that the criteria are for automatically keeping materials; nothing is being automatically withdrawn.

I'm looking at the full list, including all the titles to be retained, and I don't see anything newer than 2015. Why?

The data for these lists were extracted from our system and integrated with data from other libraries' collections in 2015, so the lists don't reflect anything that happened later than that. Because books published after 2015 are generally recent enough to retain automatically, we're not worried about missing anything we should be reviewing. The reason for the delay between the data cutoff and our public rollout of this project is that it took several years to analyze the data, design the project, incorporate additional data, format and test the title lists, and create and test all of the web content in this LibGuide. Given the complexity of the project, a significant data lag was unavoidable. We began in earnest in 2019, and we had hoped to be approaching the finish line by the time late 2022 arrived. Obviously, the pandemic slowed things considerably.

Why do some titles show that they've been checked out, but there's no date in the "Last Charge Date" column?

This means that the book has been checked out, but not since 2005. Our current library system was brought on line in 2005; checkout numbers from our previous library system were transferred to the new system, but the dates could not be transferred. Therefore, any title that was checked out but has no "Last Charge Date" was last checked out before 2005.

The classification listing says there are 75 books on my list, but I see only 43. Why?

The other 32 titles are already marked to be kept, either automatically or by another library user. In order to minimize the number of titles to scroll through, the title lists by default hide the books already marked for retention. You're seeing only the ones left to be reviewed. You can see the titles marked for retention by using the guide at the lower left of the list, marked "How to Customize View."

Why are some call-number ranges missing from these sheets?

The Library of Congress classification system is designed to keep related materials shelved reasonably close together, so it leaves what's called "standing room" in its classification schedules (call-number assignments) for subjects that don't exist yet. That is, some call-number ranges throughout all of the classifications are left unassigned so that as human knowledge advances into new areas, those new materials can be integrated into related classification areas rather than being tacked on to the end and therefore shelved far away from similar subjects. It can be confusing if you wind up wondering what's missing from the title lists, but the Library of Congress provides a complete listing of classifications and their definitions, which show where call-number ranges are unassigned. That set of documents is an expression of one way to organize human knowledge, which can be of great assistance in the research process.

How long will the project take?

It's a complex and lengthy undertaking, as you might expect with 483,000 circulating volumes to address. A rough estimate is two to four years, depending on what else happens on campus that demands everyone's time and attention.

Update: The pandemic demanded everyone's time and full attention, and we made only a little progress in 2020 and 2021. The soonest this project could be complete is summer 2023, although with library staff departures, it might well take longer.

What do you do with books withdrawn from the collection? You don't just throw them away, do you?

Certainly not! Most of the books we withdraw are sent to Better World Books, which sells them and returns to us a portion of the proceeds to use in further developing/updating our collection. The books we no longer need find other homes where they are needed, and we receive some additional resources for acquiring materials we do need. So, books we don't keep do still benefit our collection.

Some older volumes that Better World Books isn't interested in we send to the Internet Archive, which digitizes out-of-copyright works to make them freely available online. This way, even books difficult to sell are made available to a vast range of readers worldwide, using materials unneeded in our own collection to benefit anyone with internet access anywhere.

In sum, we find ways to use withdrawn materials for the further benefit of either the Middlebury collections or the broader community of readers and scholars across the world.

Whom can I talk to for more information?

Please feel free to contact either your liaison librarian or Terry Simpkins.