All of you gardeners out there know that keeping your garden healthy means regular weeding. Weeding takes time and care. It can mean pulling out and discarding flowers that look pretty but which still crowd out the plants you really want to grow. Weeding gardens is a lot of work but novice gardeners can use guides to help them distinguish between the weeds and the plants you want to keep.
All of us also occasionally “weed” our belongings. Haven’t worn that shirt in how many years? Donate it. Bought that DVD and decided you didn’t want to watch it more than once? Give it to a friend. Remember when you thought it would be fun to try fishing as a hobby? Know anyone who might take a slightly used fishing rod?
Library collections need weeding, too. Why would we need, or want, to discard any of our books? Isn’t everything important and useful? How would we decide what to keep and what to withdraw? Well, turns out there are lots of articles and guidelines that help librarians decide what criteria to use when weeding. BUT . . . “throwing out” books is still a risky business. Just last week a public library director in Illinois got into trouble for deciding to withdraw a lot (!) of books just because they were published before 2003.
At the SMCM library we do a lot of weeding in the summer. That’s not because we don’t want anyone to see what we are doing. There are two main reasons. First, most of the books are here in the library so we can see how crowded the shelves are. Second, the librarians have fewer meetings and classes so we have more time to spend because weeding is time-consuming.
Why do we weed? Yes, we actually do want to get rid of books that may be getting in the way. In some areas we can’t fit any new books on the shelves. Since we’d like you to be able to see those nice, shiny new books we need to decide which are no longer useful. Sometimes books are outdated. Sometimes they are perfectly good books, but not ones which fit our curriculum anymore.
Here are some of the factors that go into our decision-making:
- How long has it been since the book was last checked out? We can get reports of books that have not been borrowed in at least 10 years. BUT – we probably wouldn’t discard a version of the Bible or a Shakespeare play just because no one has borrowed them.
- How many other libraries own the book? If we own a book along with only 10 other libraries in the US, we will probably keep it.
- Is it outdated? A book on using MS Excel 2007 might not be that old, but it might not be very useful either.
- Is it still important to our curriculum? Is it in poor condition (and if so, should we replace it)? Do we need the 1st and 2nd editions of that book?
See – there are lots of questions and making decisions is not always as easy as when you weed your garden. Some decisions are really judgment calls and some can be based on data.
But all libraries need to be weeded regularly in order to keep them health. And that’s especially true for small college libraries. We want you to see the brand new books we are getting. And we want you to be able to pull a book off the shelf without breaking the spine or because the books are so packed together.
So if you see the librarians up in the book stacks this summer with carts, you will know it’s just us weeding, except without the gloves or the bug spray. And if you want to know why and how we are making our weeding decisions, please ask!