Musing upon weeding

Weeding – more properly known as deselection – is one of those serious bones of contention in the library business.  Setting aside the difficulty of explaining why this is necessary to the general public, within our business there is a range of opinions as to what the ‘true criteria’ should be — for what reasons do you remove an item from the shelves.

Me, I’m on the aggressive side.  I generally think that if nobody is using it, and nobody HAS used it in the past three to five years, there needs to be a darn good and specific reason for keeping it on the shelf.

hmm – before you get all wrapped around that axle, let me point out that I refuse to weed in a vacuum.  We bought those books after all, and we bought them with the assumption they were going to be used.  We – I – need to figure out WHY they’re not circulating so I can better match the community’s needs.  But that, folks, is going off on a tangent to which I’ll return one of these days.  I want to take a different direction.

Anyway, based on my nature you’d think I would be chucking books left and right.  The reality is that that I know simple rules are suspect.  As an example… One of the things for which I’m on the constant lookout is items – books – that are extremely old but extremely popular.  It’s normally true (and part of the reason for my aggressive style) that  if the book looks like it’s going to make me sneeze, it doesn’t circulate (or if in reference, it doesn’t get used).  When I see an exception, I like to get a newer edition.  Setting aside the fact that the information within is usually more current (hence accurate and timely), I almost always see the circulation rate of the item jump.  Frankly, if it’s old and still circulating, I can get enough performance from the new item to justify buying two copies to replace the old single copy.

But every so often I get frustrated.  Let me give you an example.  In my library I’ve got a copy of Henley’s Formulas for Home and Workshop.  It’s the 1979 edition – the most recent edition.  Acid-treated paper and age have combined to have brown, somewhat brittle pages in this almost-30 year old book.  Bluntly, it makes me want to sneeze every time I pick it up.  It is, however, a frequent visitor to the return shelf – the shelf to which we ask people to return reference books so we can count them and figure out use stats and all that sort of thing.  Why is this frustrating?  Because it is not in reprint, and finding a good replacement or alternative has been, well, I haven’t.  It’s not alone, of course.  But it’s representative of the class of books that makes “easy and obvious” weeding rules fail.

I think every one of the books on my shelves should be used.  And I think my patrons deserve being able to use books that don’t require major doses of antihistamines while using.  But sometimes… well, reality has a habit of mocking simplicity.


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