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Collection Management Project

Boston Public Library

Problem Statement

Some branches of the Boston Public Library were extremely overcrowded. There were simply too many books on the shelves. It was difficult to shelve items when they were returned, and the shelves were so full people had a hard time finding the book they needed. The whole system was in need of a large weeding effort, but lacked the staff and resources to support it.


We set a goal that each location’s collection size should be 85% of the building’s capacity. To achieve this, we created Collection Management Teams made up of library staff and volunteers from outside the library to assist branch staff with their collection goals. Teams went out to branches one day a week to weed materials. Staff were asked to devote an entire day to the team. Some could only spare one day to work on the team, others joined the team for several days. The duties of the team members were kept basic to encourage maximum participation and eliminate any need for training. The teams were an inspired, efficient group that spent an entire day at one location working on the collection. By creating a pool of available participants, the team was able to make progress toward our goal without leaving other locations short-staffed. The team was also able to accomplish more by focusing solely on weeding and not get distracted by regular tasks.


The project is still on-going, but the early results are very positive. Collection Management Teams brought branch collections 17-20% closer to their collection goal after 1 visit. During a 7 hour period, the team removed thousands of old, damaged, and obsolete materials from the library’s collection. The team also identified hundreds of items as missing, and updated the library catalog to reflect the correct status. The collections are now much more appealing. There is room on the shelves to add new books and turn books face-out for display. The staff at the branches have been thankful for the assistance and feel better about their collections.