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'Out of date' and 'unpopular' books go as library prepares for a facelift

 This part of a library officer’s work will go with electronic tagging of all items being introduced: Felicity Thorne at the circulation desk this week. In the background, visitors use the internet and computer services, one of the ways libraries have changed over the years. 

UPDATE, June 4,2012, 4.15pm: Reader comment that up to a quarter of the Public Library’s current holdings has been “weeded” is firmly rejected by Manager of Library Services, Georgina Davison. “No way!” she says, and reiterates that there is no target figure.
The cull is larger than normal in the lead-up to the introduction of electronic tagging and because it has not been done for a while. She says if shelves look a little empty it is because library staff are waiting for the electronic tagging before putting out new items.
New items are ordered all the time and are reported on in the monthly update to the Town Council. One recent month saw 1200 new items arrive; another, 700.
Ms Davision says there is no reduction to the budget for acquisitions.
She says staff shortages can cause delays, for instance in repairing items such as the spiral bound and laminated books in the Akaltye Antheme Collection (“a local knowledge collection intended to give the whole community an insight into contemporary Indigenous issues while addressing appropriately the needs of Indigenous family groups and individuals using the library”). These books get a lot of use and will not be “weeded”. Videos in this collection are also being transferred to DVD but again staff shortages has held this up.
Work at the town’s Public Library is a matter of renewal, not significant change, says the Town Council’s Director of Corporate and Community Services, Craig Catchlove.  Redevelopment of the library is a long-term high cost item in the council’s Municipal Plan but to date, council has not been successful in obtaining funds, despite a number of applications. So instead of a $22m new library, the town is getting a $240,000 refreshed library.
Part of this modest overhaul involves moving the front entrance to the garden facing the river, certainly more attractive than the current ‘tradesmen’s’ entrance that takes library visitors straight past the toilets.
In line with its “percent for art” policy when it undertakes capital works, council will commission a concept plan for the new entrance and garden area, ahead of applying for funds to commission substantial public art work.
Perhaps of more interest to library users is what will happen inside. The library’s holdings are currently being “weeded”, always a bit of a worry for booklovers. Will they throw out that precious book that you don’t even know you want to read yet but in years to come will be delighted to find on the shelves? Well, maybe.
Manager of Library Services, Georgina Davison, says all libraries undertake weeding and it is well overdue at the Alice Springs library. She can’t put a figure on exactly how many holdings the library has – it’s somewhere between 46,500 and 49,000; nor can she put a number of how many items will go. She says there is “no target figure”. The cull is “very methodical”, based on the items being out of date or seldom used (criteria which would seem to allow a fair bit of leeway). The Alice Springs Collection is exempt from the cull.
Getting rid of old holdings is the only way to create space for new acquisitions, she says. Off-site storage would be expensive and impractical as the library can always order specific titles through other libraries.
Is there a danger of the library moving towards a lowest common denominator collection? Not at all, she says. Popular taste is only one criterion for acquisitions. The library understands that Alice Springs is a unique place and its readers have very varied interests, which the library endeavours to “understand and nurture”. She says the library is open to customer suggestions for acquisitions: “We can’t hold everything but if there’s a gap, we try to fill it.”
The weeding is being done ahead of the introduction of electronic tagging for all items, so that borrowers will be able to self-serve (just like at the supermarket). Ms Davison denies that the new technology is a motivation for reducing the holdings but “it would be a waste of time and money” if items were tagged and then deleted.
Self-service borrowing means that the large circulation desk will go and shelving will be reorganised, creating a little more room, including better areas for people who like a quiet place to read.
Mr Catchlove says the core business of the library remains “books and reading” and there are no plans to turn the library into a community centre by subterfuge.
However, the library does run a busy program of events and it’s not all “storytime”. Its school holiday program included a drumming workshop, for instance. Ms Davison says there are a lot of demands placed on public libraries, they are supposed to offer something for everybody and they are changing:  “They are not quiet places anymore.”


  1. Where will the drumming workshop be held? I can understand libraries are not quiet, let alone silent, places any longer, but a drumming workshop?

  2. Looking around the library I would estimate that about a quarter of the collection is being culled, that’s around 11,000 books (could the library provide the exact figure please?). So are 11,000 or so books outdated, seldom borrowed or in poor repair? I don’t think so although without knowing the criteria for ‘seldom borrowed’ it’s hard to say. Many of the books being given away didn’t clearly fall into those categories and there was certainly plenty of demand for them as freebies. Presumably many others have simply been dumped. This weeding might be acceptable if the library had a grant of $400,000 to buy new books in place of the ones being thrown out, but they don’t. In a town like ours we need a large and diverse collection and not all books will be wildly popular but they are valuable nevertheless. This weeding is excessive and devalues an important community asset.

  3. HEAR HEAR. Well said Ralph. Better listen up on that one Alice Springs Town Council. Can we have a reply to the dilemma please? This is important.
    David Chewings

  4. Northern Territory is the only place in Australia that does not offer ebooks for loan. Joining interstate library to be able to get ebooks is cumbersome. I really really hope that NT libraries will get into the ebook loans soon – it will certainly solve storage problems. I’ve been using Alice’s library since 1988 and my impression is that they have less and less books on their shelves. Core activity for libraries is to hold and lend books – and this should be an absolute priority when floor space is scarce.

  5. Oh, the comments thus far do seem to be negative. I am going to be positive.
    I love the idea of relocating the main entrance over to the garden side. How lovely! It’s such a pretty area & will be a huge improvement. Well done ASTC & Library!
    As a long term resident I find the library to be one of the town’s treasures. I’m a voracious reader & use the library regularly. I disagree with those who think there are less books available to borrow these days. Certainly the fiction section sees a lot of new books come in throughout the year.
    If I have a complaint, it’s the non-fiction area that needs to be expanded and weeded. Although perhaps that is already starting to happen given the delights that have been appearing on the New Books display of late.
    Self-serve checkouts work very well interstate, I assume they’ll work well here too.
    It has been a very long time since we had to keep so very, very quiet in a borrowing library. Some days I go to the Alice library and it is quiet. And other times there’ll be story-telling for toddlers or some other “noisy” activity and the atmosphere is wonderful. My children left home years ago but I still find it wonderful to see parents here encouraging their young children to partake in library activities. I read primarily for sheer pleasure of the story. And it’s just so heartening to see the library offering activities that promote creative thinking. And to top it off the library occasionally offers activities that educate. How wonderful is that?
    Long may the ASTC fund our town library to the best of its ability, and long may the library staff select the best possible mix of new books, music, videos & magazines across a range of subjects for the shelves.

  6. @1 Sharon, you disagree with those who think there are less books available to borrow these days. That there are around 11,000 less books to borrow as of this week, that is about one quarter of the entire collection, does not appear to be disputed by the library. The empty shelves tell the story. I’d love to be positive about the library but not when they take an axe to the collection and cart thousands of books off to the dump.

    I have used the Alice Springs Library for 40 years and it and the staff have always been wonderful. They have made Herculean efforts to find obscure books and information for me and month after month year after year assisted me with my studies and my final results were built in no small part by their efforts.
    I see from the comments above that a few people don’t understand the process of renewal and replacement – or perhaps they are just chasing some headlines. Both complainers are well known nuisances in Alice Springs and are always trying to create some controversy so their names are again in the public domain.
    Perhaps I should pity them for their desperate hunger for self-publicity.


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