Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Got Dust? And Other Ways to Weed Reference...


I'm thinking about dust today. More specifically, I'm thinking about the layer of dust that gathers on a book that has been sitting on a library's shelf for a long time. Why am I thinking about dust? I'm contemplating my first weeding project at my new library: the reference section.

Now, I've talked about weeding before, and those rules definitely enter into my decisions with a reference collection, but there are other factors to consider. Further, unless you've been careful to track use for a while, there's no real way to know how many times a book has been used. Besides, despite the title of this post, if you have a good cleaning staff then you can't even judge by the layer of dust.

So, what do I look for? Here's a quick list for you, in no particular order:
  • Age of the book. With titles like The Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature or Current Biography Yearbook, so long as you have room, age isn't as important. With those, I'm as (if not more) likely to use the older volumes as the newer ones. With a general encyclopedia, however, the book is almost out of date by the time the publisher is finished printing it.
  • Needs of the community. I have a psychology department, so I need to keep our copy of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, Text Revision, despite its age. At least until the 5th edition comes out later this year. The fifth edition of MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, on the other hand, is toast - the seventh edition came out in 2009.
  • The nature of the book. Does it really belong in the reference collection? Or would it be a better fit for your circulating collection? For instance, a book about copyright from 1978 is embarrassing in reference, so I transferred it to the main collection since there's a media studies class that covers the topic.
  • Is print the best format? No, everything isn't "online," but sometimes an electronic resource presents a better format for the needs of your community. I still miss the print edition of the The Thesaurus of ERIC Descriptors - it made browsing so easy. On the other hand, biographical dictionaries and general encyclopedias are much easier to search online.
Beyond all the factors that must be considered, this is going to be difficult because I have a forever long To Do list right now. Finding time for weeding is important, though, since I have plans for the space I'll be clearing.

How about you? If you have weeding experience, is there some factor you consider with reference books that I haven't mentioned?


  1. I think you have identified the major criteria for consideration. I've now weeded three different academic reference collections in nine years. The only advice I would offer is to annually review your reference collection. This will help to identify titles to deselect, buy the electronic version as budgets allow, and move less used titles into the circulating collection.

  2. I would second Andrew, do often, I also take older ref sources to the departments and ask if they still recommended it, if there newer etc and if not would they like it for their classroom/office shelves, that free us space from those who want a book they don't recommend, and won't use. And saves me keeping older books around clogging up my shelves :-).

  3. It took us about a year to weed our small reference collection. I checked for dust on books that people said "You need to keep (title) because (some reason)." If there was dust, it went. Otherwise, we went by age, condition, and if information was available online.

  4. Dust doesn't work for us because the student workers are diligent in their shelf reading.

    I used to buy used books, and bookstore or library there are two types of books: timely or timeless. Is it the new hotness or the classic thing? Weeding is just identifying the books that failed the transition.

  5. Thank you for your considerations. I think my first and main consideration is the reader. I week things but then put them in a stockroom, because I've discovered, as soon as I have put some books aside, tutors tend to ask for that very book... so I wait, about one year, before truly weeding the stock.
    Also, about the books' age... it is no help with my collection sometimes, as it is about language learning... ie some of my resources for African languages are ancient... but it is better than nothing.