Less Can Be More

The graduate degree program in Library (or Information) Science usually requires two years. During that time students learn systems of classification, readers’ advisory, book selection and acquisition, and take classes related to the specific type of library service they envision (university, public, school, special).  Why then, you ask, after all that education and wrangling for budget dollars, after spending precious time reading reviews, ordering and processing books, would you EVER want to remove a book?  Why, indeed?
Weeding could perhaps better be called “deselection”.  In the reverse of the process used to decide to make a purchase, each book is re-evaluated in light of its publication date, amount of use, relation to other materials in the collection, appropriateness to the user community and its general physical condition. [For more details, see this PDF link: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/lb/documents/weedingbrochure.pdf ]
Let’s look at each of these criteria.
  1. Publication date:  For some materials (think art history and literary criticism) the publication date is going to be less critical than for others (think genetic engineering and astrophysics).  Still, one wants to be sure that the information being presented is current and correct.  (In a consulting job I did some years ago, I discarded a book from an elementary school library that began “some day man will walk on the moon”.  I believe the same library had books discussing the advent of color TV.)
  2. Amount of use:  Very few libraries have the luxury of keeping a book on the shelf that is never read by a patron.  After all, the reason we have the books in the library is for someone to use them.  For every book that is sitting on the shelf year after year, there is another book, demanding to be read, that needs a space.  No librarian likes to admit that s/he made a mistake in ordering but it does happen and must be rectified.
  3. Relation to other materials in the collection:  The materials in a particular Dewey classification must be considered together in order to see areas of duplication and insufficiency.  Because librarians come and go and ordering is done when some books might be checked out, situations result in which there are too many books on one topic and none at all on another.  Weeding offers an excellent opportunity to focus on specific areas of the collection, allowing the librarian to see subject areas that need enhancing. Sometimes we also discover too many copies of a title.  When it was ordered it may have seemed absolutely necessary, but time often reveals that while a book is great, two copies are one too many when shelf space is at a premium.
  4. Appropriateness to the user community:  As I said in an earlier post, Galileo’s collection would make make some public libraries envious.  But the purpose of the high school library is, first and foremost, to support the high school curriculum.  There are times when a book, as wonderful as it might be, is simply irrelevant in a school library.
  5. General physical condition:  This is the easiest of all to understand.  When a book is torn, dog-eared, moldy or battered, it needs to go.  However, this is often a clue to the librarian that a new edition should be ordered.
Several library studies have shown that circulation goes UP after a collection has been weeded. (Stanley Slote, Weeding Library Collections, 4th edition, pg. 4) The shelves of books look cleaner, newer, more inviting.  Patrons are drawn to the very areas they once avoided because they seemed old, dingy and so tightly packed it wasn’t worth the effort to extract a book.  Mr. Delaney and I hope to work our way through the collection, making sure that the collection at Galileo retains its fabulous bone structure but is more muscular and dynamic.  But where will the books go?