Libraries have always conducted periodic inventories to identify items that have gone missing since the last count. A decade ago we would automatically replace most of the missing items. This year, when I received the results of the summer inventory of the 900’s, (that’s the history collection in “Dewey”) I was able to take a very different approach, replacing only a fraction of the “missing” books.
What changed? Two important things. First, we now offer a shared collection. Since 2003 we have been part of the NOBLE library consortium. Our users have access to the combined collections of 27 libraries. So the first step in evaluating inventory results is to check each missing title to see how many copies are available through NOBLE. For many titles, there were 5 or more copies available. I consider that adequate access for our students, so those missing books were not replaced. Second, our online catalog allows us to provide links to electronic, full-text books. Some of the books that are missing are old enough to be “in the public domain.” For these books, copyright restrictions no longer apply. In most cases they are included in one of the large online collections of books like the Internet Archive and Google Books. These collections offer linking at the item level through a unique URL. Consequently, we can provide access to the book by adding that URL to the catalog record for the missing book. So these books, which would likely have been very expensive and hard to find, were also not replaced.
These two factors produce a win/win. We can provide an excellent collection in support of the interests and needs of our users, and at the same time save precious financial resources for other priorities.