Friday, August 22, 2014

Library Life - Pulling out the Weeds

In the library world, weeding isn't a summer chore your parents make you do. It's the process of deciding which items are no longer needed in the collection and giving them the boot. In fancier terms, weeding is also called "deselection."

Myself and some co-workers are planning a pretty huge overhaul of the library's children's section. A lot of the children's materials have never been weeded, or at least not in the past 20ish years. So part of rearranging and updating the section is weeding out the things that are no longer needed in our collection. I recently weeded the entire Juvenile Biography section and found some real gems. 

Every library has different policies when it comes to collection development and weeding. Some libraries remove materials that haven't circulated in five years or so. Others put a much longer expiration date on their items. But there are, of course, considerations aside from circulation dates to be made when deciding whether or not to weed an item. Here are some general guidelines that I follow when weeding:
  • Last circulation date - When is the last time the item was checked out? My library is pretty lenient here. If it was checked out five years ago, we'll probably keep it. If it hasn't been checked out for 10 or 15 years, it will probably be discarded.
  • Walt, you're looking a little old here... haven't been checked out in 22 years. I'm sorry, Walt, but this is goodbye.
  • Age of the material - Is a book so old that its information is no longer relevant? It might need to go. For example, books about politicians that are still alive can become outdated pretty quickly. I found several Hillary Clinton bios specifically about "The Life of the First Lady." Of course I think we should have biographies about Hil, but they should have information that goes beyond 1995.
  • Redundancy - Do we have several books on the same topic? Libraries should have a lot of information about certain popular topics and people. We don't, however, need a lot of information about every topic or person. For example, I pulled a particularly old and beat-up biography of George Washington. Sure, he's a popular guy, but I left about 15 other bios for interested grade schoolers to peruse.
  • Multiple copies - At one point, the library actually needed 8 copies of The Help. There was a ton of buzz over the movie, people were talking about the book everywhere, and we couldn't keep a copy on the shelf. Now, we could probably stand to weed that particular book down to about 3 copies (maybe even 2!). This is, like most of my "criteria", a judgment call. It's up to the weeder to decide how many copies of a book the library needs, but it helps to consider the other guidelines.
  • Relevance - I was drowning in biographies of 1990s athletes and movie stars during my weeding. Some of them I'd heard of (I see you, Tara Lipinski!) but some were so outdated that I'd their names didn't even ring tiny, distant bells. Unfortunately, kids no longer want to read about Sarah Michelle Gellar or LeAnn Rimes. I hurts my heart too.
  • Physical condition - Even if a book is still relevant and has been checked out, we may need to remove it from the collection because of its physical condition. We just can't keep books around that are falling apart. One of my coworkers is pretty brilliant at book repairs, so she fixes up anything that can be saved. But some books are simply beyond repair. If it's something that we think should still be in the collection, we'll get a new copy. I recently had to toss an old copy of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers because the cover was falling off and everything else was being held together with scotch tape. I immediately purchased another copy because, duh, we need a few Two Towers around. But if a book is super junky AND irrelevant, say sayonara.
  • Subject matter - Finally, it's important to consider the item's subject matter. Even if something has never been checked out or is pretty old, I'll keep it if it's considered a "classic" or if it touches on a unique subject. Some things are just important to keep in a collection. When I weed the young adult section, I try not to get rid of books that bring cultural and ethnic diversity to the collection. Even if they haven't been checked out within the arbitrary time period that we've selected as a weeding guideline, I'll keep these books in our collection because it's important that young people (and old people and in-between people!) have access to different narratives and perspectives.
These rules aren't set in stone! There's a lot of wiggle room and plenty of judgment calls involved in weeding. I also run weeds by my boss before I actually remove them from the catalog. He might know more about a certain topic than I do and think that we should keep a book that I weeded. Or a coworker might be able to tell me the value of a certain item that I then decide to keep in the collection. It takes a village! Or...something.

So what happens after we've decide to remove something from the collection? I'm sure it's different everyone, but this is how it works at my library...First we check out weeded books to a special "discard" account. This account is cleared out periodically by the people who work for our larger network (TLN) so that they're not just sitting in magical check out land forever. Then we rip out the first page of the book (the page with the library's bar code in it). I know, ripping books sounds blasphemous, but I promise it ends well! Next, we take our special "DISCARD" stamp and stamp it a few times on the inside cover of the book. And finally, we put the weeded items into our book sale in the lobby where they will await new, loving homes!

Some people seem to hate the idea of weeding. They think we shouldn't get rid of anything because WHAT IF??? But I generally like weeding. The physical act of weeding, like so many library duties, can be calming. And the results are good too! Weeding leads to a cleaner, more relevant and updated library collection. And of course it's easier for patrons to find what they're looking for when they don't have to sort through the weeds to get there.

It's not you, Leo, it's me. I'm just having a hard...okay, fine, it IS you.