30 Jun 2015


A few months ago, I added two ukuleles to my library’s circulating collection. They both got checked out within an hour and I haven’t seen them since. I don’t mean that they’ve been stolen or destroyed or lost. No, they’re so popular that when they’re returned to the library, they get checked out again almost immediately. Our ukuleles have been so popular, we had to add two more; now they’re gone too. If this continues, each of our ukuleles will circulate about 25 times per year. That’s huge. The average item in Massachusetts libraries circulates about 1.3 times annually. It may seem a little strange to borrow a ukulele from a library, but it is certainly popular.

And it’s not just ukuleles: you can also borrow telescopes, soil testers, stud finders, metal detectors, board games, cake pans, and pedometers, and I’m always on the lookout for other “unusuals” to add to the collection.

And it’s not just my library. A small but growing number of public libraries have added unusuals to their collections, and I’ve been encouraging more libraries to do the same. In October 2014, I presented a poster at the Small Libraries Forum showing that unusual items are affordable, impactful, and in keeping with the typical library mission. This past April, I gave a lightning talk at a technical services conference in which I argued that unusuals are easy to add to library collections. In October, I’ll be giving a 75-minute comprehensive presentation on unusual items at the New England Library Association annual conference. I’ll cover everything from acquisition to assessment.

One of the first questions I’ll cover is a simple one: why circulate unusual items?

Well, there are a number of perfectly good reasons. You can probably guess most of them:
  • Circulation
  • Cost
  • Patron feedback
  • Library mission

My favorite reason might not occur to you, though. I advocate circulating unusual items because they are a tangible representation of the future of libraries. Yes, libraries are changing, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s true that we’re not totally sure how to make ebooks work in a library setting, and yes, Netflix may be decreasing our DVD circulations somewhat, but haven’t you always wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument? Here, try one of ours.

It is crucial for our communities to be excited about the future of libraries, and I think the future of libraries is legitimately very exciting. Unusual items help give voice to that excitement.

If you’re thinking about adding unusual items to your library and have questions, please get in touch with me. I’d love to talk to you and help you get started


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