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Sneaky Ways You Can Shape Our Collections

People reading in the window seats, Main Children's room, 1914., Digital ID 115812, New York Public LibraryLibrary reading nook, similar to the new children’s nook at Grand Central You may have noticed while browsing the collection at your local branch that it seems like we’ve been making a lot of shelving mistakes lately. On the back of most books you will notice a sticker with the name of the branch it originally came from, but you're probably seeing the names of branches other than the one you’re standing in. As of April 2010, the library quietly made a fundamental change to our branch collections. In the past, when a user checked out a book “owned” by the Epiphany branch but returned it at Seward Park, our shipping system would send the book back to Epiphany. Now, with the advent of what is known as floating collections, items without holds stay where they are returned.

The hope is that with fewer items unavailable while en route to their home branches, there will be more items on the shelves ready for you to check out. Most importantly, it also allows communities to help shape their local collections. If a branch has a small romance section because they don’t think there is a demand for those books, their patrons are largely having their needs met through placing holds. Now, that section will quickly grow because after those holds are checked out and read and returned, they will stay where they are, allowing other users to benefit from the new variety coming in.

Floating collections have had two fun effects on the collections at the Grand Central Branch, both caused when under-served needs began to be met. The first and most visible change has been to our children’s collection. Before opening, we were shipped three picture books and had to borrow books from nearby branches for our first few months. Serving an adult, Midtown community with the Children’s Center just a few blocks away, it was thought that there would be little demand for children’s books. Over time, those three books grew to become an entire section on our mezzanine. Because use was driving circulation up and causing the section to grow, the library also began purchasing more children’s books and DVDs for us. That led to even more kids and families feeling comfortable coming in and spending time in the branch, so we will start offering Toddler Time in April.

Another unmet need was for urban fiction titles. Until recently, we had a single shelf in a hidden corner for these books and unsurprisingly, use was low.  A volunteer objected to this placement and after a fruitful discussion, we found a way to rearrange things to give the urban fiction a larger and more visible new home.  Because this volunteer knew how floating collections worked, she took it upon herself to bring in dozens of new titles for this section from all over the system.  If this was an imagined need, those books would have gone back out to other branches to fill holds, but instead the section has been heavily used and has continued to grow.  

Have you noticed the effect of floating collections at your local branch? Did you understand why? Now that you do, what books or movies would you like to “add” to the local collection?  If there are any items you’d like your neighbors to have access to, put a hold on them, then check out and return them at the branch whose collection you’d like to enhance.


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Wow! Mystery solved! Not long ago I found a book from another branch on the shelf. I gave it to somebody at the counter to send back. She said, "Actually, we're supposed to keep it." I had no idea what she meant. Now it turns out this was part of a Grand Master Plan, and it makes so much sense! This way, my voracious 12-year-old is less likely to run out of books locally (we already put a lot of books on hold for him, but it will be nice to see new ones appear on the shelves as if by magic). And I definitely plan to influence our local branch by ordering books about homeschooling and unschooling and returning them there, as described (as part of my own master plan to increase the number of local kids who aren't in school and who therefore never get taught to hate books by being forced to read). Whoever decided to give the Floating Collections idea a try in the NYPL system deserves a raise.


Thanks for your wonderful response, and good luck with your own Grand Master Plan.

power to the people!

Thank you for this highly informative and empowering post.

My pleasure

And thanks for your comment!

Great post!

I really enjoy explaining the floating collection to Inwood library users! Thanks for this post explaining. Going to share with our facebook/twitter followers.

great post

This question came up recently and I remembered this blog entry and referred people to it. It's a great post. Thanks!

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