Monday Motivator: Lessons Learned from Inventory

Last week we did inventory. With out trusty iPads and bluetooth scanners, we touched every book, CD, DVD, videotape, and bound periodical in our collection. Dust fell on our heads as we scanned books and (especially) videos that have not been touched in a long time. Now we know the location of everything in the library. But we learned some other things as well:

  • Every advantage has a corresponding disadvantage. We were excited to learn that our new system would allow us to know immediately when a book was checked out, out of place, or even not in the catalog at all.  We would be able to fix things as we go! But our enthusiasm quickly died as we moved into some of the sections that are popular research paper topics. Scanners would beep every two-three books. Now 90% of the time this was because the book was only one spot out of place, but we still had to check. It was annoying, and we soon found a way to work around the problem (such as scanning the whole section, pulling out the books that were in the wrong spot, and fixing them all at once.) But it was a good reminder that it’s foolish to expect any system to be perfect.
  • There are several ways to track needs. Our library system can tell us when a book was last checked out, how often it’s been checked out, and when it was inventoried. By looking at a range of books, we know whether to buy more materials for a section. But there are also some low-tech ways to judge a section: how much dust falls on your head as you’re scanning or how many books are out of order (if books are in the same pristine order from the last time we read shelves, it’s a good bet that students aren’t browsing in that section). Always have more than one way to judge whether or not something is working or not.
  • The plan will have to be tweaked. Our directions on our scanners said that each could hold 5000 scans before needing recharging. This turned out not to be true. So we had to modify how many hours we could be up in the stacks each day. It’s good to have a plan; it’s also good not to be married to it.
  • People will approach work differently and that’s okay. When Pam was scanning, there were two piles of books at her feet: 1. problems, 2. books she wanted to check out. I tended to analyze my sections for what topics needed added materials and what sections had never been touched by students. Other folks could have been anywhere; all they cared about was the sound of the scanner. Some people chatted as they scanned. Others were silent. But the work got done. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, why not allow folks to work in their own way?

Some of the other lessons learned are more minor:

  • how much dust you can inhale before you start coughing like a maniac
  • that a mistake can exist for four years and not be noticed because students never go up in that particular section
  • the breaking point of every person in the library (Mine was the tiny pamphlets in the OT section. For Colette, it was the tall art books on the top shelf. For Emily, it was the section where every other book was out of place.)

We dread doing inventory every time it’s due, but we always agree that it was worthwhile. And grateful that we don’t have to do it again for another two years.

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