AIB. Commissione nazionale biblioteche delle università e della ricerca

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Convegno internazionale sullo sviluppo delle raccolte
International conference on collection development

Current issues in collection development: Italian and global perspectives

Bologna, February 18, 2005

Giacomo Nerozzi
Redefining collections in the Reference Room of an ancient library

This report has been assembled through the careful considerations lead by the Archiginnasio library's Reference room staff, in order to provide a concrete solution to an existing problem. While the present congress is going to develop a discussion about building and managing library collections, our attention will focus on the distinguishing qualities that collections must have, in order to be available to the readers inside the reference room of a two-century old library.

The whole point is about the up-to-dateness and the usability of the open-stock materials. Before entering details, we'd like to make a little digression about the history of Archiginnasio library, because it affected the collections development in many and important ways and even had its influence on the mission of the library itself.

Founded in 1801 in order to make accessible to the public all books seized from religious communities during Napoleon's campaigns, the library increased its own possessions through gifts, inheritances and private book collections purchases. It is therefore possible to say, as our director wrote in 1997, that "...the collections of Archiginnasio were shaped not by a consequent and reasonable acquisition policy, but - rather - by the continuous sedimentation and accumulation of entire libraries" [1]. Notwithstanding the "absence of an acquisition policy able to counterbalance the effects of an ungoverned growth due to gifts and inheritances" [2] - as the commission, charged to find solutions to Archiginnasio problems, wrote at the beginning of the '80s, other developing city institutions addressed the library to a particular devotion to history, literature, university-related subjects and local erudition.

Since 1909, the Public Library services have been parted from the main building taking the name of "Biblioteca Popolare". During the '60s and '70s, the founding of the Central Public Library and the birth of the first branch libraries set definitely Archiginnasio free from public library activities; at the same time, the University Library, on the footsteps of the library of the Science Institute, was expected to provide acquisitions for scientific topics.

Nowadays, the "Sala Borsa" library provides the city of Bologna with an abundant selection of contemporary materials and gives a careful attention to multicultural aspects and multimedia materials. On such a basis, we can agree with the mentioned commission, as they addressed at "local and Italian history, Italian literature with particular attention to writers from Bologna" as the main themes and goals for the Archiginnasio library.

The Reference room came to the scene in 1958. We can find founding purposes declarations and practical details in an article, written by director Alberto Serra-Zanetti, published on the Archiginnasio bulletin in 1956. We can read that the Reference room was intended "to serve high culture and specialized studies" [3]. The DDC was not adopted as a positioning scheme, because - Serra-Zanetti wrote - "...these foreign systems, based upon rigid scientific principles, don't fit to our attitudes, to our culture and to the peculiar nature of the books owned by our public libraries" [4]. Various modifications, which took place in the years, didn't modify basically the structure of the reading room: today we still divide books into a section-scheme which is practically the same as in Serra-Zanetti times.

The most relevant changes which affected the Reference room weren't about the physical structure of the room or about the sections organization; they affected, with greater consequences, the more subtle level of provided services. We are talking about the opening of a Reference service in 2001, a service with a specific area, specific structures and specific assigned librarians; we are also talking about the suppression of the personal card, which was required until 1996 to enter the room. These modifications allowed librarians to reach a better relationship with users; they also could gather useful informations about how resources are used. A new kind of user brings unavoidable new needs, to be harmonized with traditional ones.

The systematic irruption of computer technologies into information resources organization (I am thinking about CD-Roms, which initially came in low numbers, and now are almost irrepressible, even if quality isn't always the same) made our services reach a breaking point; therefore we are today facing different service patterns, sometimes radically different (the public internet access itself is guaranteed by the reference room), to be combined if we want to rebuild a unitary image of the Reference room and its own total purposes.

What is not possible to postpone anymore is, of course, a weeding plan of the collections. The Archiginnasio Reference room has a dynamical relationship with the whole library collections. Its 25000 titles represent the total open-stack offer of the library, but still a very little part of the catalogue. It is therefore very important that materials offered without intermediation directly to users are up-to-date and constantly weeded. Solimine writes in his essay about library collections that some specific events in a library's history can lead to think again about the purposes of collections, in the same way we take something and drop something else while moving from an apartment to another one. In this case, we are going to reach a great goal, as the reference room collections will soon be all available through the local OPAC [5]. This will allow librarians to use more advanced and flexible instruments to perform analysis on the collections themselves and it will also be possible to plan a better weeding activity, which in our case is not a movement outwards, since it is directed to secondary storage areas inside the library, where books can be picked up by request -- as Slote asked for, in his well-known book "Weeding library collections" [6].

Anyway, even a superficial analysis of the current literature shows that not all materials inside the Reference room can be weeded as it is generally done in public libraries. Scientific literature about this topic is essentially about public libraries: a Reference room as the one in Archiginnasio can be compared to a public library only under specific points of view. The Room, as we said at the beginning, plays two roles: it offers the "first information", general advise to the reader -- on the other hand, it provides assistance to scholars, for what it is possible, with in-depth researches having a high grade of complexity. Other libraries provide two different rooms, in order to accomplish these two different goals (I am thinking about the report presented by A. De Pasquale at the Bibliocom convention in 2002, when he spoke about the Turin National University Library Reference room [7]); materials replicate this double function. In fact, we have a weedable part which can be weeded according to the same criteria adopted in public libraries; but we have also a non-weedable part, for which classical considerations about shelf-time periods are pointless: these materials must be available at any time in a Reference room which want to accomplish its institutional goals. As our geography section proves, weedable materials and non-weedable materials often live side-by-side, sometime sharing the same shelves. Therefore, if in a certain shelf a general World Atlas older than 10 years must surely be weeded, because big changes in geopolitics have made it useless, in another shelf - not far from the previous - a Corography from the 19th century can stay, because a large amount of researches needs this work.

In such a reality, conservation problems are common. Keeping ancient books on open-stack shelves is a choice which implies a big vigilance effort. Every time it is possible to swap ancient books with modern reprints, this is made immediately. Ancient and old books are "weeded" also when electronic resources (local or online) are made available. In this case, as De Pasquale already wrote in 2002, there is a further problem concerning users, who must be taught to handle new technologies. This way, some users might add a certain annoyance to a traditional dislike toward new technologies, due to the fact they have to learn new methods to perform research tasks they could easily manage until a few days before.

Coming to an end, it is quite clear that we have to design the Reference room upon completely new basis, even in its material organization (just as an example, the "Bibliography" section has outgrown its purposes so much, that it can be hardly used today). With an essential fidelity to the plan set by director Serra-Zanetti during the late 50s (we want to preserve it, in order not to dissatisfy usual readers by deleting their landmarks - I am thinking about the "Scienze Ausiliarie della Storia" section, so heterogeneous in its composition, but still so often used by a wide range of experts), the Reference room staff wants to declare the coverage and up-to-date levels of each section. We intend to reach a scheme, a "Reference room collections paper", through which we can communicate to readers the choosing/weeding criteria adopted for the materials, abandoning the "survival weeding" praxis followed until today [8]. In this document, we shall write what we mean by "Weedable parts" and "Non-weedable parts", and how the first ones can be weeded with traditional désherbage techniques, and how the second ones will be preserved.

As a conclusion, I'll say we want to search for a pattern to better combine traditional resources and electronic ones [9], in order to provide a better storage of the former and a more careful exploitation of the latter.

Thank you.


[1] P. Bellettini, Un'ipotesi di 'scarto' in una biblioteca di conservazione, unpublished papers for the "Master in library management" - 4th edition - Milan, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, 1997.

[2] Relazione del gruppo di lavoro per lo studio dei problemi della Biblioteca dell'Archiginnasio, published in Istituzioni e cultura. Proposte per un cantiere, Bologna, Comune di Bologna, 1982, p. 36-52.

[3] A. Serra-Zanetti, La nuova sala di consultazione della Biblioteca Comunale dell'Archiginnasio, "L'Archiginnasio", LI, 1956, pp. 52-85.

[4] A. Serra-Zanetti, La nuova sala di consultazione..., cit., p. 67-68.

[5] G. Solimine, Le raccolte delle biblioteche, Milano, Editrice Bibliografica, 1999, with particular attention to page 209 and following.

[6] S. J. Slote, Weeding Library Collections, Libraries Unlimited Inc., Littleton, Colo. 1975

[7] A. De Pasquale, L'integrazione tra risorse tradizionali e risorse elettroniche: come cambia la sala di consultazione di una Biblioteca Nazionale, abstract and Powerpoint files available on internet at the following web address: <http://www.aidaweb.it/reference/gargiulo-bibliocom2002.html>.

[8] The "survival weeding" definition comes from C. Carey, Survival weeding, in B.-C. Sellen - A. Curley, The collection building reader, Neal-Schuman Publishers, New York (1992), pp. 139-140.

[9] A. De Pasquale, L'integrazione tra risorse tradizionali e risorse elettroniche, cit.

N.B.: disponibile anche la versione italiana.

Copyright AIB 2005-03-16, ultimo aggiornamento 2005-03-16 a cura di Serafina Spinelli
URL: http://www.aib.it/aib/commiss/cnur/boeneroz.htm3

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