Collection Management Drop-in Sessions January 9 and 14: Member Feedback

The proposed collection capacity management strategy is to withdraw from the collection some journal and government publication material that is available online; foreign language journal material that has ceased acquisition; obsolete material; and duplicate copies of books where these are not warranted. Additionally, the proposal is to begin a strategy to move some low-use books to off-site store, with selected foreign language works in subjects other than literature, history and art identified as a particularly low-use category with which to start.

The Library held 7 drop-in sessions which were attended by a total of 31 members. They produced a lot of lively discussion which will be extremely helpful to the Collections Team and the Collections Committee in considering how best to move forward through this very difficult task.

Key points raised by members are covered in the FAQs.

The points of the strategy which caused the greatest amount of discussion were around the nature and characteristics of the existing London Library collection, foreign language material, and communications with members. A summary of the feedback on these issues, and our responses to these, follows:

The nature of The London Library Collection

Members sought to ensure that the Library staff understood the attraction of the Library’s collection. Comments included the following points: that the eccentricity of the collection is a major reason for joining the Library, and we should be careful not to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and lose the quirkiness of the collection; that whilst librarians may have tidy minds, the eclectic mix to be found on the shelves is part of the Library’s unique value; that whilst there may well be a move towards electronic collection building, it is the extensive print collections that may be borrowed that are unique to The London Library; that many libraries no longer feel like places of scholarship, whilst The London Library has retained that atmosphere.


We have no desire or intention to erode the unique characteristics of the Library’s collection. Whilst we do believe that a greater reliance can be placed on electronic sources which duplicate extensive print holdings of periodicals and other long series such as government publications, we are fully appreciative of the breadth and depth of material that has been accrued over time and the uniqueness of the collection that we have. Our aim is therefore to handle the necessary reduction in stock held on-site with the utmost care, to ensure that the essential characteristics of the Library’s collection are not eroded.

Foreign language material

Members wished to ensure that the importance of the foreign language books was understood. Foreign language titles in Art, History and Philosophy, particularly nineteenth century editions, are important and to lose them would have implications for those researching the history of these subjects. There was a variety of viewpoints put forward, with one member suggesting that whilst he had borrowed eastern European books from the Library, the collection was not strong in some languages from that region so these could be candidates for withdrawal; it was acknowledged that German works in Fractur (gothic script) were almost illegible to most readers of German, but that removing this material would also impact upon the extent of some collections such as early art theory; the Russian literature collection is known to be strong by those who use it; poetry was given as an example of something which is arguably best read in the original language and it was felt that the Library ought to have better collections of poetry from other countries and cultures.


The feedback gained through discussions on foreign language material was extremely useful. This is an area where we will engage much more with members through further meetings to explore various options. The low circulation figures for foreign language material (of which there is a large amount) might make it a good candidate for off-site storage. However, this is merely a starting point for discussion, and further engagement with members over how to take such a matter forward will be arranged for later in 2020.

Communications with members

Members were keen to hear of any proposed plans before material is actually removed from the Library. There were requests to share as much information as possible about the Library’s collection management strategy, using more channels of communication and not just the e-newsletter; to let members know in advance what is planned to allow for feedback and safeguard against any assumptions being made about apparent low-usage of material that may be being consulted within the Library only; where possible, to post lists of material to be withdrawn or moved off-site on the website.


These drop-in sessions have been extremely useful, and are the very start of how we wish to engage with members over the ongoing collection strategy. There were articles in the Library magazine in 2019, as well as e-newsletter communications about government publications, but it does seem as though these are not reaching all members. We will endeavour to widen communications about our plans (for example, by creating these web-pages), and, as is mentioned above, engage in in-depth consultation with members through meetings where we feel we need detailed, qualitative input from members.