Saturday 9 March 2013

Is Smartsm really smart without Librarians?

I was interested to read the following comment by a library person on the UKLIBCHAT site recently;

"Would you say smart sm is tech? It’s a stock analysis tool – prob software w[?] web interface I think. We’ve been impressed in some ways doesn’t replace stock knowledge. But given reduction of professional librarians and need for paraprofessionals to be involved, smartsm is a helpful tool. Interestingly except when we’ve over weeded, customers have liked the results and commented positively"

This got me thinking about stock management in Public Libraries since the cuts and the level of professional input involved. I have a number of concerns, some of them highlighted in the quote above, these are;

If there are fewer 'professional' specialist staff (Stock Librarians, Cataloguers etc) in the system then who is keeping an eye on what Smartsm tells staff to withdraw from stock? Are these decisions being left in some cases to Library Assistants, and don't get me wrong I'm not saying they are not capable of making these judgements but if so who has an overview and the final decision?

And if stock is being sometimes 'over weeded' then is replacement stock being bought and is the depth and breadth of the collection being adversely effected?

Has 'Smartsm' been used more since the cuts?

Let me use some crude examples; if there is a 3 volume series and one of the volumes hasn't been out for a year and 'Smartsm' has been told to identify for withdrawal anything that hasn't been issued for a year then who is saying "don't get rid of that it's part of a multi-volume series"? And what about 'classics', a book by Zola or Proust, in some Libraries, might not go out very often but does that mean that they should be removed from stock just because they show up on a 'Smartsm' list?

My real concerns are about the de-professionalisation of the service and the 'dumbing down' of the collections, if we are not careful we could end up with Libraries full of flavour of the week or month popularist titles and surely as Bob Usherwood points out this is not what we should be aspiring too;

"Good librarians raise expectations too. Simply stocking libraries with books that reflect the assumed tastes of the public at large is a condescending act and one that reinforces the shallow values of the market and the media. It is insulting to the intelligence of people from all kinds of backgrounds who are, as history shows, more than capable of enjoying works of excellence. In a democracy, the public library’s role is to provide equality of access to first-rate collections and services."

My concerns may be totally unfounded and I'm sure if they are my lending colleagues will be the first to let me know.


  1. The main problem with Smart SM is over time it tends to drive all but the most popular titles into the larger libraries, especially with respect to non-fiction

    1. Thanks for your comment Anonymous, as a Reference Librarian i'm not familiar with the ins and outs of stock management but this automated approach seems to not only de-skill and de-professionalise staff but also appears to be dumbing down and is a very blunt tool to say the least?

  2. Anonymous Librarian27 March 2013 at 04:32

    Your concerns are not unfounded, Alan. You paint a very accurate picture of what is happening as sound principles of intelligent and sensible stock management are replaced by simplistic number crunching.

    1. Thanks for your comment Anonymous Librarian, it really depresses me to see the de-skilling that is going on in the profession, whatever happened to book shop visitis and proper weeding etc and library staff choosing books that reflected the needs and wants of their local communities?