Dec. 3, 2013
• Based on several weeks of observation experience at a
mid-sized academic library in Metro Detroit.
• Founded in 1960, this library is currently the only library
• Serves a student population of 19,000, plus 600 faculty
• During the 2011-12 school year, more than 535,000
people visited the library. Nearly 1 million people visited
the library website.
• The 4-story building has an Information Commons,
reference collection and student café on the first floor.
• Additional books and periodicals, plus quiet study space,
are located on the upper floors.
• The reference desk recently merged with the IT desk,
providing students with a one-stop spot for both
computer questions and research help.
• The library employs 12 full-time librarians and 4 parttime librarians who man the reference desk and teach
library skills in introductory English classes.
• Reference collections at major, and even minor, academic
libraries nationwide are shrinking every year.
The space is needed for student study areas, computer labs and
Budget dollars typically geared toward collection development
are being spent on online databases and other digital reference
Or Is It?
• The movement toward
fewer reference books
comes with several
Richer, more comprehensive
An increase in communal
learning space – something
Uptick in digital literacy.
Librarians spend less time
maintaining a bulky
reference collection and
more time working with
students where they want to
find information – online.
Digital Media Commons
• “Over time, the reference collection will wither away.”
- Facts Go Online: Are Print Reference Collections Still
• “It’s high time libraries moved the reference books out of their
• “…the footprint size of the collections, and the declining usage
of those items … are at odds with each other.”
- Fantastic Voyage: Reference Service in an Ever-Shrinking Print
Environment (2013 Booklist Conference)
Dave Tyckoson is the associate dean at Henry
Madden Library at California State University in
Cutting Reference in Half
• According to one administrator, the reference collection at the
observation library has seen major changes in recent years:
Many volumes have been removed from the reference
collection and moved to the circulating collection.
The last major weeding project occurred 3 years ago. At
that time, the reference collection was cut in half.
• The library does not have an official weeding policy, but
administrators and librarians work together informally,
gathering input on what titles should be weeded.
• Future plans include additional weeding of the first floor
What Books Are Actually Used?
• University at Albany
– Jane Kessler, 2012
• During the 2010 fall semester
at the University at Albany:
• Only 7.1 percent of the 26,000
volumes that make up the
university’s print reference
collection were used by
students and faculty.
• “A low use rate such as the 7.1
percent found in this study
argues for a thorough review
of the collection” … “Some
materials may be discarded as
outdated, but many sources
may benefit from being moved
to the stacks where they are
more likely to be discovered by
Percentage of Reference
2010 Fall Semester
University at Albany Libraries
Use It or Lose It! Results of a Use Study of the Print Sources in an Academic Library Reference Collection
Other Major Weeding Projects
• University of Louisville – Robert Detmering, Claudene Sproles
• Reference collection are often treated as “sacred cows” at
• Re-thinking how reference materials are used, combined with
“intensive weeding” “transformed (the collection) into a
useable, pertinent resource.”
• University of Vermont – Frances Delwiche, Nancy Bianchi
• Consolidating reference materials made librarians more
knowledgeable and engaged in their work.
Reference in Transition: A Case Study in Reference Collection, Transformation of a Print Reference Collection
Making Room for Students
What are we making room for by weeding reference collections?
More space for students to study, collaborate and learn.
• University of New South
Wales – Kylie Bailin (2011)
Academic libraries are a “third
space” on college campuses,
“(Users) flock to library
buildings and spaces that are
attractive, centrally located,
technologically current, and
arranged to meet the needs
of groups as well as solitary
“The academic library can be
a quiet refuge but can also act
as a social gathering place for
Changes in Academic Library Space: A Case Study at the University of New South Wales
At Home, Space Is Needed
• According to administrators, the observation library currently
has study space for 1,700 students.
• The library is 76,000 square feet and has no major expansion
or renovation plans planned.
• The library is open 24 hours a day to students, a recent move
that has doubled the number of students using the library on
a regular basis.
• During final exams, students are forced to use the floor and
hallways for group work, with some students even parking
themselves in elevators and stairwells.
• Library staff are currently working to weed the periodical and
reference collection on the fourth floor to meet the growing
demand for student study space.
The Tide Is Shifting …
• … When it comes to large, physical reference collections.
• With fewer bulky books to worry about:
• Students and teachers are reaping the benefits from digital
• Students have more room to study and collaborate.
• The additional room and space for collaborative learning is
transforming the academic library into a hub of activity on
• Are students and academics missing out when valuable reference
tools are weeded from academic collections?
• Are digital databases enough?
• Bailin, K. (2011). Changes in academic library space: A case study at
the University of New South Wales. Australian Academic & Research
Libraries, 42(4), 342-359.
• Delwiche, F.A., Bianchi, N.A. (2006). Transformation of a print
reference collection. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 25(2), 2129.
• Detmering, R., Sproles, C. (2013). Reference in transition: A case
study in reference collection development. Collection Building,
• Kessler, J. (2012). Use it or lose it! Results of a use study of the print
sources in an academic library
reference collection. The Reference Librarian, 54(1), 61-72.
• Tyckoson, D. (2004). Facts go online: Are print reference collections
still relevant? Against the Grain, 16(4), 34-37.
• Vnuk, R. (2013). Reference collections in an ever-shrinking print
environment. Booklist, 110(2), 54.
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