LITS Staff continues work on Library Winnowing Project

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Allegheny College’s Library and Information Technology Services staff began identifying books eligible for consideration for removal in September 2019. 

The LITS staff is considering removing books for two reasons: to maintain a collection that can better support student learning and to free up space that can be better used by students. 

“Calling books from the collection is part of the library’s standard practice,” said Richard Holmgren, vice president for information services and assessment director of the Pelletier Library. 

Additionally, winnowing the library’s collection of books allows for LITS offices that are currently in Murray Hall to move to the library, which is one component of the Campus Master Plan. 

The Campus Master Plan began in 2016 with the establishment of an internal working group that focused on creating a map of improvement for Allegheny’s physical facilities, according to the college’s website. Renovations to the library to allow for the relocation of LITS staff in Murray has been deemed a high-priority recommendation in the Campus Master Plan. 

Holmgren explained that each book on the shelves in the library, at its lowest estimate, costs the college approximately $1 per year to maintain, meaning that the winnowing project has potential to save Allegheny approximately $100,000 per year. 

This money would be reinvested into students in a number of ways, including financial aid and additional faculty, according to Holmgren. 

“The way people use books and use the library now is very different than it might have been 20 years ago,” Holmgren said. “The goal of this library is to support undergraduate students.” 

To be considered for removal, the book must meet nine stringent criteria, which are “standard practice,” according to Holmgren. 

First, the book must have been published 20 or more years ago. Second, Allegheny’s library must have had a copy of the book on its shelves for at least 10 years. 

Then, there must be no documented circulation, course reserve or internal use of the book in the last 10 years, and the book must have fewer than two documented circulations ever. 

In addition, LITS staff must know of no impending curricular change or other reason to believe the book will be used in the future. 

The book must also be available in the same edition via interlibrary loan from multiple other academic libraries. Additionally, other libraries must have committed to retaining copies of the same edition of the book and making those copies available through Interlibrary loan via initiatives such as the HathiTrust Shared Print program. The same edition of the book must also be held by a library in the EZBorrow lending consortium. 

Finally, the same edition of the book must be held by at least four different academic libraries. 

Only if the book meets all nine of these criteria can it be considered for removal. 

Once books that meet all nine criteria are identified, library staff place a pink slip that contains information about them in each book that is eligible for consideration. 

Faculty and other community members are welcome to review the books that are candidates for removal. If someone finds a book they believe should be kept in the library, the reviewer may remove the pink slip from the book and place it in an envelope provided by the InfoDesk. Once the pink slip is returned to the InfoDesk, the book will be kept. 

Once a book is tagged with a pink slip, the book will remain on the shelf for faculty and community member review for three weeks. 

“The goal is to get faculty to come in and look at books in which they are experts,” Holmgren said. 

After three weeks, books that still contain pink slips will be removed by LITS staff. Books that are removed are sent to the third-part reseller, Better World Books. 

Better World Books is an online seller of new and used books to fund worldwide literacy initiatives. Since its founding in 2003, Better World Books has raised millions for non-profit literacy partners, saved hundreds of thousands of books from landfills, utilized carbon-neutral shipping and created hundreds of jobs, according to the company’s website. 

Approximately 96,000 books are expected to be candidates for removal. While there is no way to estimate how many books will actually be removed from the library, LITS staff members do expect enough books to be removed to free up enough space for the proposed offices to move into the library. 

Members of the Allegheny community have mixed feelings surrounding the project. 

Professor of Mathematics Anthony Lo Bello referred to the project as “vandalism” and “a huge mistake.” 

Of the tagged books that have been marked with pink slips, Lo Bello estimates that he has removed approximately 20,000 to 30,000 of the slips. 

“A book is a work of art,” Lo Bello said in a previous interview with The Campus. “Just because a book hasn’t been borrowed in 10 years doesn’t mean it is no good.” 

While Professor emeritus of French Phillip Wolfe does not protest the winnowing project, he does object to the way in which the books eligible for removal are being identified.

“I’m not against winnowing the collection,” Wolfe said. “It is just that I am afraid (the LITS staff’s) categories are making them winnow the wrong books.” 

The nine criteria are causing sets of books to be incomplete and censored works to be kept instead of uncensored works, according to Wolfe. 

“As any librarian will tell you, a broken set is worthless,” Wolfe said. “This preoccupation with categories above everything else, I think, is noxious.” 

The tentative completion date for the winnowing project is the fall of 2021.