Weeding. Ever since my first job as a library page in 2007 I’ve been hearing about weeding. I’ve seen librarians pull carts of books off the shelf, and painstakingly consider each item. I’ve seen them create piles. I’ve seen them cringe.
In library school I learned about it. I studied the CREW weeding manual, and learned the criteria for removing items from the collection. I learned that many public libraries acquire over a thousand new items every month, meaning that over a thousand items must be deleted to make space for the new. I studied the philosophy of libraries, and came to understand that when deleting and adding items to the collection, you have to take the needs of the community into account, above and beyond your own bias. You have to keep neutrality in the back of your mind. You have to consider the intellectual contribution of each item, and you have to keep the collection balanced.
The task of weeding is definitely not one of the more glamorous aspects of librarianship. You sit at your desk with a cart of books. You scan the first one. You consider the circulation statistics. It’s only been checked out twice this year? There are two other copies of it at other branches? It’s 10 years old and we have dozens of newer items about similar topics? Goodbye strange DVD manual on the ins and outs of e-mailing in the workplace. You send it to the discard section, confident it will not be missed.
I guess to some people this task might seem tedious, but I have come to really enjoy some aspects of weeding, and I think it all comes down to perspective.
Things I’ve learned to love about weeding:
- It’s statistical. When I began my weeding project I took a random sampling of the collection and calculated the average number of times they had been checked out this year. Some had been checked out over 12 times. Some hadn’t been checked out yet. I decided to set my criteria at 2 or fewer checkouts this year, so that I would eliminate about 15% of the collection. It’s kind of fun doing that research.
- It requires critical thinking. Sometimes the decision is very easy (like the aforementioned e-mailing in the workplace DVD, or an outdated documentary on dirt), but sometimes it’s not. For example, a series of 5 DVDs on the history of bread. Numbers 1 and 3 had been checked out enough times to pass my test, but the rest hadn’t. Do I delete some and keep the rest? I decided to keep them all because I had already deleted other materials on the history of food, and I wanted to make sure we had something left over.
- It gets me excited about our collections. This week I’ve been working on weeding the non-fiction DVDs. As a result, this week I’ve also taken out and watched 6 amazing documentaries and started a To-Watch list. There are documentaries about everything! The history of dragons, the evolution of the Canadian dialect, beauty pageants in India, Sommelier culture, even something called “orgasmic birthing.”
- It broadens my understanding of my community. I am so impressed with the number of times members of the Kitchener community have checked out documentaries on renewable energy and sustainable lifestyles. I’m interested that in the past couple years the “cookbook” style DVDs haven’t circulated at all, despite their previous popularity. By looking at the most popular and least popular items, I’m learning the tastes and the habits of this community.
- It helps me provide better reference services. Now that I know what we have (and know what the most popular items are), I am better able to help people find the perfect item. A lady said she was having trouble finding DVDs on spirituality. I told her that I agree, most of our DVDs in that section focused more on religion than spirituality, but if she was interested we have a few deep breathing and yoga DVDs with a strong spiritual focus. Or we could put a hold on an item at Main. By being observant while weeding, I’m learning a lot.
- It requires an awareness of current issues – in the world and in the community. For example, I know that the disappearance of honey bees is becoming more of a vital concern in North America. For that reason, instead of deleting a documentary on the subject that had only been checked out twice this year, I put it on the display rack.
So there you have it. There’s more to weeding than circulation statistics. What do you think of weeding? Love it or dread it?