Reference or reverance?

People often approach the reference collection of the library with a sense of awe and reverence.  For most library users all books are considered useful and worthy of respect. But reference books, which have been chosen to stay always within the library to serve the informational needs of its patrons, sometimes develop an inflated sense of worth.  And yet, the very fact that these books are chosen to provide current and factual information requires that they be more scrupulously and frequently reviewed and weeded.

What exactly is the reference collection and how is a book selected for it? There are many kinds of reference collections depending on the scope and purpose of the library itself. In the case of the Galileo Academy library, the collection is a general reference collection covering almost all the Dewey decimal classifications. Here are some of the reasons a book might be selected for this special collection:

1.  If checked out, it would mean a loss of information for all other patrons on this particular topic.

2.  Part of a set; it’s usefulness would be compromised by the loss of one volume

3.  Expensive; art books with color plates are an example.

4.  Intended for brief consultation of a page or two; not for reading cover to cover.

Because of these same factors, once acquired, reference books tend to grow roots and establish themselves firmly. Keeping an awareness of the materials available elsewhere in the Galileo library and available on-line as well as remembering the mission of the high school library,  we found weeding the reference collection less complicated than anticipated.

Consider The Family Legal Advisor, published in 1974.  Undoubtedly, many laws have changed in the 35 years since its publication. And one could question the necessity of a high school library to provide legal materials for its users.

Another item selected for weeding was VideoHound’s Independent Film Guide published in 1999.  In order to keep current, this is the type of book that would need to be purchased annually.  Instead, why not send students to the Internet Movie Database for these questions?

Generally speaking, almanacs and directories are rarely useful after about 2 – 5 years.  We found several in the reference collection dating to the mid 1990’s. The Middle East and South Asia, published in 2000, reflects in charts, graphs and statistics, a different world than the one we now know.  Offering students out-of-date statistics does them a disservice.

The San Francisco Almanac, published in 1980, belongs in a historical collection. Indeed, the SFPL has 10 copies available for use along with the 1975 edition, the 1993 edition and the 1995 edition. In a library with limited space and resources, it is best to use those resources in more curriculum specific areas.

These are a few of the gems we managed to dig out of the reference collection. The remaining books fit in their alloted space without overflowing onto book carts, sending patrons on a circuitous journey around the library. Our next battleground will be Biographies where Mr. Delaney already found Commodore Perry and the Opening of Japan, published in 1955, a book he fondly remembers reading himself when he was in school.