Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Talkin' 'Bout Weeding


This post outlines the approach I use when weeding a library's physical collection. I'm going to assume that you already have established criteria for your own weeding projects. If you want more on that, there are lots of helpful articles and texts out there. Also, I've written about how I weeded my reference collection if you want an overview from me. However, that's not what I want to talk about today. Instead, I want to talk about how I involve members of my community in the decisions.

Before I begin, let me lay all the caveats on you. My methods for communicating with faculty about deaccessioning/weeding books and other materials have always worked for me. The one time I had someone get fussy, it was super minor and I headed it off by making a small concession. Even though I've had no real problems with this approach, I also know that it is not a cure-all. As you look through what I've written, know that I've worked exclusively at academic libraries that were part of small colleges where I have/had personal relationships with the faculty (we weren't always on the best of terms, we did at least speak regularly). Also, I have never had to weed a collection with a super-quick turnaround time. In other words: your mileage may vary,

Now, onto the good stuff.

The first part of my process is to go through the criteria established by the library and pull all the books I/we want to weed and set them aside. How much I do at a time has always been determined by space constraints. Usually it's one or two carts. It's crucial to make sure I have room to leave them where they won't get in the way because they may be there for a while. You'll see why in a moment.

Second, I contact the faculty who use the books that we're weeding. When we weeded the 800s (yes, I'm at a Dewey library), I contacted all of our English faculty for feedback. There have been times that I've contacted just the chair of a department, but usually I contact everyone. 

This contact is the contact crucial step. I've crafted my words carefully and I'll explain why after I share the text of an email I sent recently - on 10/20/14 - as we started weeding the 900s.
"One of the biggest complaints we get from students about the library’s collection is how old and out of date it is. (Based on results of the exiting senior survey from last academic year.) We take those comments with more than the proverbial grain of salt, of course, but there is some truth to their concern. We add newer materials as our budget allows, and that will help, but we are also trying to cut down the existing collection to make room for the new materials.

The two professional librarians here have 33 years of library experience between us. Add to that the fact that we've also gotten our graduate assistant to help since he is a recent graduate of the history department. The thing is, though, we’re not experts in your fields of study. And that’s where you come in:

We’ve pulled books from the 900s (history) section of our collection that don’t seem to fit the current curriculum or your areas of research, but would love if you could double check. [Name of librarian] has a cart in her office right now with the books we’ve pulled. This will be an ongoing process, so there will be more books to check in the future, but if you could stop by sometime before 10/31 we’d appreciate it. After that point we’re going to assume that you trust our judgment, and move on.

Thanks ahead of time,

Things I included:

  • Citing student satisfaction, or lack thereof. This is another way to use the data you collect: to help you tell your story.
  • Citing library expertise. 
  • Appealing to faculty expertise.
  • Being up front about the fact that this process will take a while.
  • Giving them a deadline.
Things I did not include:
  • Any mention of specific criteria.
  • Specific numbers relating to how many books we'll weed, how many books we'll buy, or how many complaints we received.

Third and final step is to make sure someone is present when the faculty members come by to look at the books. This is the point at which we answer questions about our criteria, but I have to tell you that is a rare event. I also make sure to tell faculty that we're happy to keep any and all of the books we've set aside, but that most of them will have to be replaced with newer editions that aren't falling apart or stinky or whatever else.

There have been a few times I've deviated from this method, such as the time I begged the Victorianist to come help me go through that part of our fiction collection. But this is the method I've stuck to for a while now, with variations on the themes in that letter above being the crucial part of the process.

How about you? How do you communicate with your patrons about weeding? I'm especially curious about how non-academic libraries approach this.

1 comment:

  1. The example book is one written by an old family friend! He is a long-time English Professor at the University of Nebraska. Cool, huh?