Friday, February 05, 2010

In which I attempt to predict the future

Part of my job is selecting items to be purchased by our library. Most of our materials budget goes to purchase scientific and technical Journals. These are all subscriptions and the annual selection process is quite run of the mill. We get a title because; well we subscribed to it last year and see no compelling reason to change. Occasionally a title ceases, or becomes less useful to us because of curricular changes. Sometimes we cancel titles because the prices go up, but our budget does not. Once in a very rare while some funding becomes available to add a title, but most of the time the Journals subscriptions just roll on from one year to the next.

A small slice of the budget pie is reserved for one time purchases and a tiny slice of that goes for recreational reading/viewing/listening. Here's where the crystal ball gazing comes in. What are our students, faculty and staff going to want to read, watch, and listen to? Not just now but next year, and 20 years from now?

I learned, way back in my collection development class that for libraries, the past is the best predictor of the future that we have. If your patrons read science fiction last year, they will probably want more science fiction next year. If books of poetry languish on your shelves now, that's not likely to change, no matter what drastic measures you take. Sure, sometimes something radical happens to change everything. Terrorists attack New York and we see an uptick in interest in books that might help make sense of things. But changes in circulation patterns are rarely radical, material that was popular in one format (VHS tapes for instance) becomes material that is popular in another format (DVD.) Books about Word Star give way to books about Word Perfect and then to books about Word.

Our circulation system has been automated for just over 20 years now and it seems this might be a good time to analyze what has been used in the past and make some predictions about the future.

I ran a report that identified items that have been used over the past 20 years. 69492 items have been checked out or used in house at least once. 1147 items have been used 21 or more times. (Keep in mind, a book could have been in constant use for 20 years with only 10 checkouts assuming it was checked out to faculty borrowers, and renewed the maximum number of times.) On the other hand, when an item is on reserve it could be limited to a two hour checkout. It's not impossible that a reserve item might rack up 21 charges in a day.

Let's take a look at our crystal ball and see what we can figure out.

This first one is easy. The most used 3 DVDs are the Godfather 1, 2 & 3. If there's a Godfather 4, I'm ordering it. Fargo is #4 and
is in 5th place.

Fiction Best Sellers: The client by John Grisham is the most read best seller owned by the library. Grisham's The Pelican Brief is 2nd and Stephen King's The stand is 3rd. Tom Clancy's The Sum of all Fears is 4th and Grisham's A time to kill is 5th. So any Grisham, King and Clancy seem to be automatic purchases for us.

Of course, the Main Collection, where our research books reside is going to be a much bigger project. At a glance I can see lots of areas that have high use. The most used book of any kind, is Probability and statistics for the engineering, computing, and physical sciences / Edward R. Dougherty.
It is followed by Physicochemical processes for water quality control [by] Walter J. Weber, Jr. With contributions by Jack A. Borchardt [and others], and Water treatment principles and design / James M. Montgomery, Consulting Engineers, Inc.

Want to hear more? Let me know.

Want to suggest something new? Email me


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