Count those books !

 

          The DCMS Service Standards actually encourage library services to cut the number of books they keep (to settle at a level of 1.5 books per resident eventually).  One bold service (Croydon) actually says in its 5-year policy document:

  "Too much stock on shelves can make it difficult for users to identify what is available".

 

          We are sure you will agree that to save us hours of unnecessary browsing, it is best that those highly skilled library managers select a minimal set of choice titles for us.  After all, the purpose of the book fund is to continually change the stock so that the few readers left can find different books they haven't read.  It is not meant for building up large collections that even avid readers could not exhaust.  The managers are campaigners at heart and want those lean years, when the councils cut their book funds to zero, drawn to public attention.  Nobody would notice if their libraries were always full of books.

 

          Thus the need for a "comprehensive" collection can be quietly dropped as has already happened with the need for an "efficient" service that requires less than Ј10 spent on infrastructure for every Ј1 spent on books.

 

          Although all authorities' book counts are published each year (London boroughs' range from 1.1 (Lambeth) to 4.0 (Westminster) books per resident, for example), you will not find the number for your own individual library unless you are privy to management figures (and they can be wrong or missing).

 

          But you can count them for yourself fairly accurately in about 10 minutes!

 

          The method is based on the fact that the average book is one inch thick and, for simplicity, it uses imperial units rather than metric ones.  (Check a few random shelves if you aren't convinced!)  Cheap paperbacks and other "genre" books are much thinner (about half an inch) but we hope you will agree that libraries that stock a disproportionate number of these are cheating their public and so we should use an "equivalent book" one inch thick in our counts.  Children's books are even thinner, usually, but we propose that these, along with the large print books, be left out of the present survey.

 

          First check that the shelves are the standard 35 inches wide (0.9 of a metre) – make corrections as you go for the few that are not.

          Then methodically walk round noting the total number of shelves as well as the total number of empty shelves (combining partially empty ones to give an equivalent number).

 

           Unfortunately, in refurbishing some libraries recently, "designers" have created shelf mazes to make it more of a challenge for the public to find the books they want.  However, if you are lucky enough to have an orderly library, the counting task becomes even easier:

just note in columns:

 

           number of shelf units    number of shelf    how many          how many empty

          (of the same B and H)      bays per unit     shelves high     shelves (or equivalent)

                       "U"                             "B"              "H"                       "E"

 

            Each row in this table represents a block of shelf units of the same type.  So for each, if you multiply:  U x B x H  you get the number of shelves "S" in each block which you can write in a fifth column.

          (By the way, some librarians may treat you like a fifth column if they spot you.)

          When you have done all the rows, add up this S-column and you have the total number of shelves.

          Add up the E column for the total number of empty shelves.

 

          The total S minus total E is the number of full shelves ( -equivalent) which you can then multiply by 35 to give the total number of books (or at least, our 1"-standard books).

 

          We suggest that you do the non-fiction and fiction separately and perhaps the "genre" fiction books in a third total (1"-standard, of course).

 

          A further useful figure is the total book capacity of your library.  This is all the S-totals (without subtracting the E-totals) multiplied by 35.

 

          You'll soon get the hang of it, honest!  Then you will want to do it at least once a year to watch the gradual decline of your library (or the opposite, if you live in the Borough of Utopia).

 

          Perhaps you would be kind enough to share your figures with us so that eventually we can compare libraries in terms of book-quantity if not quality.

Please fill in this standard form and return it to LLL@talktalk.net.

............................................................................................................................................

 

 

Library Authority (borough):            ......................................................

                             Library:               ......................................................

          Date of taking count:                   ......................................................

(Adult) Books:

                    Non-fiction total:           ...........................

(alphabetic) Fiction total:           ...........................

  (separate)           Genre fiction total:          ...........................

                    Grand total:                  ...........................

(Adult) Shelves:

Total book capacity of your library:          ...........................

If you would like the credit, your name:          .......................................  Many thanks!