Thursday, May 26, 2005

A bit more on weeding

As we find ourselves during the intersession between the end of the Spring Semester and the start of the Summer Terms, I get to work on some projects. One of the ongoing projects is weeding. I wrote some thoughts on weeding previously. Given that my library has a severe crunch when it comes to space, I have an extra incentive for weeding. At any rate, I am going at a steady pace. I look over some books, then double check them on the cataloguing system to see when was the last time they were checked out. If they have not been checked out between five to ten years ago, they are gone. Also, if there are copies of the books in other libraries in our system, it is likely our copy goes too, unless it is some standard work in its field. So, what else do I consider when it comes to weeding? Well, there is the age of the book. Now, in Arts and Humanities, my areas of collection management, some older books are actually desirable due to their value in the scholarship or their status as standard works. However, for the most part, I am parting ways with anything before 1980 or so (and I think for some, that may be generous, but I am being safe for now. I can always revisit later). I also look at the condition of the book. If it is falling apart, it has to go. However, one also has to consider if it is better to replace the book in question. How much would a replacement cost, especially if it is something out of print? Sometimes, you may have to send the book to the bindery instead. I also look at what similar materials are on the shelf. If I have five or six lives of Mozart, chances are half of those can go once you apply some of the other criteria I have been listing so far. In our case, we also see if there is an electronic version of the book. We have been acquiring a good set of e-books through services like e-brary and NetLibrary. Now, a lot of the old stuff won't be there, but if push comes to shove, if I have it electronically, the hard copy will likely go. Again, in this case, it is a matter of saving space.

When you look at the process, it is a lot of little questions and details a librarian has to ask about books before moving them to be discarded. And before anyone out there I am doing something horrible like other libraries, no, the books won't end up in a dumpster in the middle of the night. The State of Texas does have some strict guidelines for academic institutions when it comes to discarding what is in essence state property. Yes, the books will be discarded eventually, but there are processes in place. Also, before I discard anything, two other librarians have to sign off on it. If three of us agree, we move them to Technical Services so they can be removed from the catalogue and then sent to be discarded.

Is it a subjective process? Yes, it is. My library is trusting my expertise and experience to do this task. This is one of the jobs where you probably prefer to have a professional librarian. I know in academia, you certainly want a librarian doing it, preferably one with some academic discipline background as well. I am not saying I am perfect, since no one is, but I am very confident in my expertise and skill to do this. Also, not everything I choose right away goes. Sometimes I find out it has circulated, or I find there is nothing similar to it, so it goes back. But by now, my instinct and expertise are tuned enough I can move at a good pace.

Again, this is the type of thing no librarian really likes to talk about. In an academic library, certain books go out of date very quickly, so the process should be more swift. However, it depends on the size and mission of the library. A large research library likely collects at very comprehensive levels, so they are bound to keep almost everything they collect. A smaller library like mine, that serves a smaller and more diverse population (diverse in the sense of less specialized), needs to likely be more selective and weed accordingly. Public libraries? That is another ballgame, so to speak, but I am sure they have their criteria as well. I bet they are not as different as what I use. However, public libraries very often will sell items removed from the collection through Friends of the Library organizations or on their own. In academic libraries, this varies. Overall, it goes back to Ranganathan's Laws, the one where he said a library is an organism. Like any organism, it needs to be nurtured and cared for. Like a flower garden, you do have to remove the weeds now and then. So, I find myself weeding, a little bit at a time.

P.S. You have to admit, there may be something between wrong and guilty pleasure when as you wrap up the weeding for lunch, "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen comes on the internet radio. As I am checking items in the catalog, I am listening to the radio on the internet.

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