Have you ever noticed that, no matter what you’re looking for, the Library seems to have it? Almost everything I’ve ever entered into the catalog search bar has come up with a hit, often in multiple material types. Do you want that novel in large print? How about an unabridged audiobook? Or ebook?
Further, it seems that (barring a massive holds list) it can be delivered from across town to the library in my backyard within a few days. But like everything that is effortless and works correctly time and again, I think I’ve begun to take the Library collection and its swift movement for granted.
The collection contains just over 2 million items: books, audiobooks, ebooks, dvds, music cds and scores, periodicals, etc. The Library’s goal is to have a collection with depth and diversity – one that will serve the needs of our community, providing materials for both information and pleasure. They select items based upon a number of criteria, including: patron interest, accuracy of information, the importance or timeliness of the subject matter, critical acclaim and awards won, among others.
Different neighborhood libraries serve different populations, so each location has a good general collection, but some things are unique. While Troutdale Library has a very well used young adult section (after all, they’re located just down the street from Reynolds High School), Woodstock has quite a large collection of materials in Chinese to serve the patrons there who speak that language. The Library staff choose items by looking at things like demographics, staff and patron feedback, and the size of the space.
The Library has been around for almost 150 years, so they’ve built some special collections. Central houses the John Wilson Special Collections, more than 10,000 rare and historically significant items. North Portland Library holds the Black Resources Collection, over 7,000 books and multimedia items that illuminate the African American experience. And let’s not forget the new Lucky Day Collection, now at all locations, which provides patrons with additional copies of highly popular books that aren’t subject to hold queues.
Weeding: Send It to the Title Wave
The collection is in constant rotation, both because approximately half of it is checked out at any given time, but also because when new materials are purchased, older materials have to be taken out to make space. An item may be discarded because it is in poor condition, the information is obsolete, or simply because there isn’t sufficient demand from patrons.
However, discarded items are still doing good for the Library and community because most of them go to the Title Wave Used Bookstore, the Library-run bookstore that sells these “retired” materials at really great prices. The Title Wave can’t sell everything, so some things are donated to other organizations, sold to vendors, or recycled.
Moving Materials and the Holds Process
So how does the Library’s outstanding collection make the rounds? Three delivery trucks run among neighborhood libraries, Central, and Library Administration, moving approximately 30,000 items every day, which is equivalent to all the holdings of Fairview-Columbia Library! Items pulled from Central’s collection are sorted on-site for direct shipment to neighborhood libraries, but each neighborhood library sends crates of materials both to Central and to the Sort Center at Library Administration for distribution. Each Sort Center staff person processes an average of 785 tons of materials per year!
One of the most loved aspects of Library service is our holds process. Last year, Library staff filled 2.7 million holds, and, on average, nearly 8,000 holds are picked up by patrons each day. Each hold item is handled by multiple people. It begins with the request being printed from the circulation system, which is then given to a staff person or volunteer who searches the stacks for the item, checks it into the system, and sends it to the Sort Center at Library Administration. The Sort Center staff process the material from neighborhood libraries, taking it from the home library’s crate, and re-crating it for delivery to the destination library. Finally, the staff members at the destination library scan the item to trigger your hold notice and place it on the hold shelf.
The size of the Library collection and the efficiency of the processes to transport items around the system are easy to take for granted. On the rare occasion that I don’t find an item that I want, I generally give a little grumble before moving on to something else. But when I stop to think of the research and labor that goes into making and keeping our collection great, I appreciate the Library more.
Special thanks to Multnomah County Library employees Shani Fox, Cindy Gibbon, Jeremy Graybill, and Ty Thompson for their insights into the MCL collection and movement of materials. Learn more about the collection by reading the Library’s Collection Development Policy.