Thinning book shelves at the Greater Victoria Public Library’s central branch are worrying some avid readers, but librarians say the shifting collections are simply the result of a new book return system.
Victoria resident Barbara Pedrick said many of her favourite fiction novels – from Jane Austin to Anthony Trollope – began disappearing about a year ago from the library at 735 Broughton St.
“Even the librarians have noticed there are a lot of empty shelves, they’ve told me that,” said Pedrick, who sent a letter to Victoria council suggesting councillors look into the issue. “The books are just disappearing.”
Pedrick also expressed concern that books are being discarded without proper oversight or consideration, a claim that librarians say is completely unfounded.
“Anything that involves books can be emotional, but personally and professionally, I wouldn’t allow books to be thrown out and removing books at all is not something we do lightly,” said Rina Hadziev, collections co-ordinator at the Greater Victoria Public Library.
The central branch’s fluctuating shelves, she said, are the result of a new floating collection system implemented last year at various branches.
The program allows library users to return books to any Capital Region branch, and the receiving branch then adds that book to its collection.
“Before, if a book were returned elsewhere, we’d send it back to the original library. But that was proving onerous and we were shuttling them all around the region in a truck,” she said.
One of the curious outcomes of the floating collection is that heavily used libraries like central branch are seeing far less fiction returns, Hadziev added.
(Photo inset: Barbara Pedrick)
More than likely, downtown workers are checking out books during the week at central branch and returning those books to suburban branches on the weekends.
“A lot of people who work downtown are returning their book to Oak Bay or Nellie McClung,” Hadziev said.
The criteria for permanently removing and adding library books is exhaustive: considerations include cultural relevance, condition, accuracy and when it was last checked out.
“It would be highly inappropriate to apply a blanket criteria to removing our books,” she said. “There are other areas of the collection where not having been checked out isn’t really a factor.”
Books about spousal or sexual assault and medical texts are rarely checked out but often read in-library, whereas a children’s book about Pluto being a planet would likely be removed and recycled.
“We do feel some responsibility to not be putting out information that’s completely wrong, particularly when it comes to children’s books,” she said.
To remedy the thinning collection at central branch, Hadziev and her team are now shipping some popular books back to the library. While the process still requires some fine-tuning, Hadziev said frequent library users like Pedrick should notice an improvement in fiction selection today compared to a few months ago.
“Maintaining a collection is like maintaining a garden, it’s a living thing,” Hadziev said. “It’s part art, part science. … We have the second-highest circulation rate in Canada, which means we have holes for a reason, but we take our stewardship role very seriously.”
DID YOU KNOW?
The Greater Victoria Public Library allows users to suggest new titles for the collection anytime. Check it out here, or call 250-382-7241.