What % of library books are/have never been checked out?

What % of library books are/have never been checked out?

Sort of an interesting question. I never checked out any books from my college library or used any of them as reference or sources.

And I’m asking about ALL libraries, public as well as college/high school etc?

I am volunteering at public library at the moment. We are updating the computer system. I came up with the Dewey decimal card catalogue. To me it’s weird it all being on computer, but I digress. I am going through books and cards recording the ISBN. I have opened hundreds of books that have never been checked out let alone looked at. I couldn’t put exact percentages on it, but at least 1/2 in our small library.

I can run this report for the mid size public university library I am sitting in … Quick choices - circulating books, not counting reference materials or smaller collections, total charges =0

30% of our circulating collection has never been charged
[caveat: never charged on the library software platform we are using, the library existed before we used this software, back to the paper slip sign out stone age, so this number doesn’t reflect use on other systems long ago …
and it’s a constantly moving figure anyway. The past few years we have heavily weeded older and never used books, so 3 years ago you would have gotten a higher percentage when we held onto more]

I don’t know the answer, but I found out that our local library purges books that aren’t checked out often enough, so it’s not a good source for unusual material.

I’m curious as to how you feel about the % being that high.

(Don’t you mean that the other way around?) How can you tell if a book has never been looked at? I guess because the pages have that new, never-been-opened sense? But that’s not something you can tell for sure, is it?

OP: Are you including things like reference books, that aren’t check-outable but that lots of people use in the library?

I see books all the time that go several decades between check-outs, according to the piece of paper in the back. Like nofloyd points, out, the 30% figure should be adjusted to account for books that have been checked out but are not yet in the computer system.

If we can work out a good fit to the frequency at which books get borrowed (some Zipf process?), based on records we do have, then, given the total number of books in a collection, we should be able to estimate the total numbers.

Another caveat is that if, say, I need to check a chapter of some new or old book at an inconvenient hour and can do so on-line, I am not going to make a trip to the library to find a physical copy. That skews the frequency way down, unless you account for it.

It depends on the library as to what kind of circulation system they use, but it is common to stamp a date on a circulation card or sticker as to when the a checked out book will be due. If no such dates have stamped then the book has never been checked out. Certainly lots of books have been looked at but never checked out–and there is no way you can tell if this has happened–unless you have a closed stack library where library staff have to go and get the books.

Yes, I know how they can tell whether a book has been checked out. (Sometimes anyone can tell, by ways you mention; but I assume the library itself will always know.) I was asking how anyone could tell that a book hadn’t even been looked at.

In 1958 I took a course on English (that is British) novels. We got a large reading list and freely chose some number from that list to read and report on. One of the books, Trollope’s Warden IIRC, was over 50 years old and had uncut pages. I cut them. I was amazed. It might not have been the only copy the Penn library owned.

I mean, a geomeric distibution

You must be younger if you never checked out or used any library books as references to get through college. I was an engineering student and even I had to have sources for papers. Of course, that was pre-internet days.

Public libraries are going to give very different answers than university libraries.

University libraries are designed for research. They need to keep older books so that they can be accessed. Their very age can be important in understand what knowledge and attitudes existed in earlier decades.

Public libraries, especially branches, cannot afford to keep as many books. They cull their shelves constantly to make room for the latest information.

Both types now almost always have off-site storage for many books that don’t regularly circulate. You can’t browse them: they have to be asked for individually. I regularly ask for books from the “stacks” that obviously haven’t been touched for ages.

I used to love wandering through the open stacks in college and just picking up random books to look at. And when I needed to do research, going to the proper shelf and looking at all the books filed next to one another almost always gave me information I needed and wouldn’t have found by naming individual books.

It is if the pages have never been cut. That’s not the case with modern publishing, where hydraulic shears will pretty easily cut through the edges. But I have some old books from the 19th century that have clearly never been read, because adjacent pages are still joined all the way down the outside.
Not a practical way to tell if modern books have been read, though.

OK, a glance at the tables in “A Circulation Model for Busy Public Libraries”, A. Bagust (1983) seems to show that about 70% of books had never been checked out.

Modern electronic searches enable one to find even obscure volumes much more easily, so they may be being looked at more, but at the same time obviate the need to formally check anything out, which would explain Textual Assault’s college experience and render this metric obsolete.

I’ve heard of PhD candidates (who will be, as is the custom, donating a copy of their thesis to the university library) slipping a $20 bill into the pages of the thesis, and then every so often checking to see if anyone’s opened it and found the money.

Of course, nowadays, the paper copy of a thesis is just a formality, since anyone who has any interest in it will be reading an electronic copy.

I am not sure how I feel. I have been haunting libraries since I was very little. I love them. The way they smell, the lighting, cool quietness. In my local library I have been helping at for a few months is great. I like the head librarian and our 2 cats. The patrons are nice. Mostly people wanting to use computors, though. It’s a great local stopover with friendly folks. Sadly, I think some libraries days are numbered. I for one, will feel the loss.

It’s easy to tell if a book has been on the shelf and never cracked open by the way the spine feels. I, of course am always looking at the pocket in the back to see about check out dates. The hardest part of my duty is putting the discard stamp to use. I always feel bad. Sometimes I bring these babies home and put them on my shelves.

I believe that an uncut Trollope can be quite valuable :slight_smile:

I took out Thackeray’s *The Irish Sketch Book * and found it with uncut pages.

The Collected Works of J.V. Stalin (multi-volume) appeared to have slumbered safely on the shelves since the 1950s.

Springfield, Illinois’ State Journal-Register sent a reporter to the city’s public library to find which book had gone the longest since being checked out. The winner, I believe, was something like an 1853 tome on Sangamon County agricultural law that hadn’t been checked out since 1923. Dates approximate.