Turnover reports: how to use them, an illustrated guide

Turnover reports are run once a year by Computer Services, after the fiscal year resets on July 1. Each branch or unit will receive a formatted spreadsheet with their turnover data for the past year sometime during the month of July (it takes a little time to format the reports).

What is turnover?

Turnover is calculated by call number or call number range. Turnover is the number of circs in a call number range over a set period of time (in our case, the previous fiscal year) divided by the number of items in that call number range. See illustration below:


So, what does that tell me?

You can think of turnover as the average number of times an average book in a call number range got checked out in the time period covered. For example, if this year’s report shows that your 600s have a turnover of 1.5, that means that, on average, any given 600 book at your branch got checked out one and a half times this year. Of course, some books in your section will have checked out more times than that and some less, so turnover doesn’t give you circ information about individual titles. What it does tell you is the average circ performance of books in that call number range.

Turnover is an estimate of how fast the books in each call number range are moving–and, by extension, how in demand they are at your branch.


Why do we use turnover rates in collection assessment?

It is possible for you to pull circ stats over a given time period from Sierra. However, the same number of circs means very different things for sections of different sizes. Let’s say last year at your branch, two different sections both had 20 circs each: your Fiction and your Picture Books. For a whole section over a whole year, that doesn’t look so great, does it? BUT- let’s say you have 500 books in your fiction section, and only 2 in your picture books. That means that of your 500 fiction books, 480 sat on the shelf unused for the entire year, but your 2 picture books got checked out 10 times each! That tells you that you may have lots more Fiction than you need, but you should probably buy a lot more Picture Books because they are in demand.

What is a *good* turnover number? Is there a goal I should aim for? Please illustrate with unicorns if possible.

A *good* turnover number is one that indicates that that section is getting used at a rate that is close to your branch’s overall turnover. So, there isn’t one single number to look for. As a baseline, a turnover of 1 means that books in that section are going out once a year, on average, which tells us that section is viable. To put it in medical terms, that means there’s a heartbeat and that section is alive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that section is thriving. It’s important to compare section turnover numbers to the overall turnover number for that age-specific collection, and for your branch as a whole. Let’s look at two examples:

1) The Curry Branch is evaluating its J PICBKs. J PICBK turnover is 2.1; overall turnover for children’s books is 4.3; and overall branch turnover is 3.8. In this case, a turnover of 2.1 is probably lower than it should be, since it is less than half the average for children’s books at Curry. The children’s librarian at Curry sets a goal of bringing up the turnover number over the next year, which means either increasing the circs or reducing the size of the collection.


2) The Iguodala Branch is also evaluating its J PICBKs, and what do you know: their turnover is also 2.1. But! Their children’s turnover is 1.5, and overall branch turnover is 0.9. That means that picture books are circulating more than most children’s books, more than twice as much as the overall branch average. That’s pretty great! The children’s librarian at Iguodala decides to buy more copies of popular picture books, and new copies of any picture books that are in bad condition because they’re getting used so much.


So, do I always want my turnover numbers to go up?

Not always. Now that we’ve been working with turnover stats for more than one year, we are able to look at changes in collection size and turnover from year to year. In addition to your 2015-16 spreadsheet, this year you will also get a separate spreadsheet you can use to track number of items and turnover rates for each section every year. This will allow you to see how the changes you’ve made over the past year impacted your turnovers.

Let’s go back to the Iguodala Branch. It’s one year later, and the children’s librarian has spent the last year buying new copies of popular picture books and additional copies of the most popular picture books. Iguodala has more picture books this year than it did last year. This year, the J PICBK turnover is 1.9, which means turnover went down a little. But since the average for the branch is still 0.9, that means picture books are still circing above average for the branch, and in fact, Iguodala is probably doing a better job meeting patron demand.


What if J PICBK turnover at Iguodala went up instead of down as the collection got bigger? That would mean that the more picture books they get at Iguodala Branch, the more their patrons want them!


Here’s the big question: how do I use my turnover report in collection development?

We’ve looked at a couple examples of how your turnover numbers can inform your purchasing throughout the rest of the fiscal year. But what’s the big picture? How do we apply the statistics we’re seeing in these reports to our collection development choices?

Turnover data can influence:

  1. Ordering: what kinds books you select, and how much money you decide to spend on different types of books out of your annual budget.
  2. Weeding: whether you should be gentle or aggressive in weeding sections, and whether to allocate money from your annual budget to replacing worn out copies.
  3. Space and display in your branch: a section’s popularity at your branch should influence how much shelf space you devote to it.

Let’s go back to math class for a minute.


Turnover is a fraction: number of circs (numerator) divided by number of items (denominator). If you want your turnover number to go up, you have to either increase the numerator (# of circs) or decrease the denominator (# of items). If you want your turnover number to go down, you have to either decrease the numerator (# of circs) or increase the denominator (# of items).

So, to get your turnover number to go up, you have to either increase your number of circs or reduce your number of items. In the past, libraries have focused on how to increase number of circs. How do we get people to check out these items we’ve bought? This strategy, though, involves convincing your patrons to want something, rather than listening to patron feedback and providing more of what people are telling you they want. If your turnover for, say, science fiction is low, it means your patrons aren’t checking sci fi out at a rate that justifies the number of sci fi books you have. Maybe your patrons don’t want much sci fi.* You could take on a year-long campaign of trying to convince your patrons to like sci fi…… or, you could simply reduce the amount of sci fi you collect at your branch.

(*Tricky part! OR, maybe your patrons DO want sci fi, but they don’t want the sci fi books that you have. A good way to assess this might be asking your circ staff how often they get requests for sci fi books that aren’t at your branch.)

If you want your turnover number to go down–say, if you have 300 items in your early reader collection and the turnover is 12.2–you could try to reduce the number of checkouts (decrease the numerator), but why on earth would you want people to check out LESS books from your branch?! No, the strategy you’re more likely to take is to increase the denominator–buy MORE early readers!

ORDERING: This is pretty straightforward. If a section has low turnover, you might choose to order very few (or NO) new books for that section. If a section has high turnover, you might consider spending more money than usual on books for that section. In addition to buying new releases in popular sections, you probably also want to use some money to replace the most popular titles, since those are likely to be used so much that they are in poor condition.

WEEDING: If a section has low turnover, it may be time for some aggressive weeding. You can use the turnover rate for that section as a benchmark for performance–when you’re looking at which individual titles to weed, look at the AYC (average yearly circ column) and consider weeding those items whose AYC is below turnover. For example, if your 900s have a turnover of .68, you might look at weeding any book whose AYC is below .68.

If a section has high turnover, that means those books are in demand. If space allows for it, you might weed very gently in these areas, and choose to make exceptions for titles that might get picked up by a reader of these popular items. However, you can still use turnover as a benchmark for AYC. For example, if your picture book turnover is 3.5, you might look at weeding anything with an AYC of 2.5 or less. This is lower than the turnover rate, but because these books are popular, it makes sense to allow room for some items that circ a little below average. It also means that you will end up weeding some books that do circ a little bit–if a book in a popular section got checked out once last year, and you’re short on space, it’s fine to say that that book isn’t circing up to your branch’s standards and it doesn’t need to be in your collection.

SPACE and DISPLAY: You might consider making more room for sections with high turnover, and decreasing the amount of space for those with low turnover (which will happen if you weed aggressively).

What about subject representation? Don’t I need to have a little something on every subject?

Oakland is a big, diverse city, with fully customizable neighborhood branch libraries–customizable by YOU. You have the power to shape your branch’s collection to the demands of your community.


You should always make sure your collection strongly represents diversity in race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, and cultural background. This is crucial no matter what the makeup of your community is. However, subject representation can be spread across branches in Oakland, our patrons also have access to books through Link+, and we maintain access to a variety of electronic educational resources. If you choose, it’s fine to keep a small collection of low-use materials “just in case,” but it’s an equally strong choice to develop your branch’s collection around sections that have demonstrated patron demand.

In summary: your turnover report is a tool, and there are different ways to use it. 

Your turnover report gives you information about how the collections in your branch are performing, circ wise. They don’t tell you anything about what patrons look at on site without checking out–only your eyes and those of your branch staff can assess that. They do not tell you which items within a section your patrons like best–for that, you have to look at weeding reports, do daily visual scans of your recent returns, and ask all staff at your branch what items they get asked for and see getting checked out repeatedly.

There are different ways to use your turnover report in collection development, depending on your branch’s space and needs. You can use turnover numbers as benchmarks for performance and guidance in weeding your collection. You can regard high turnover as a sign that patrons want more of a particular type of book, and allocate a big part of your annual budget to that. You can use low turnover numbers to justify refreshing a collection–weedly aggressively, then buying updated materials. Turnover numbers are just numbers, and are only helpful in collection development when combined with your professional judgement and the observations of you and your staff.

If you need help determining how to use your turnover report, your collection management librarians are available! Please contact OPL’s Adult or Children’s Collection Management Librarians or the Teen Services Supervising Librarian with any questions.


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