Why We Weed: Book Deselection in Academic Libraries

Weeding – withdrawing books from the library’s collection – is one those dreaded librarian tasks. It usually sits on the back burner – other projects are often more pressing, or it’s simply being avoided. However, it’s an important task and one that can be fraught with controversy.

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Public libraries which frequently need to refresh their collections to offer bestsellers often pop up in the news when it comes to weeding books – mostly for not doing the job well – see Urbana Free Library in Illinois, Fairfax County Libraries in Virginia, and Davenport Public Library in Iowa.

For academic libraries, the process seems to be a taboo subject. News about book weeding occasionally bubbles to the surface (see Emporia State University in Kansas, the University of North Dakota law libraryNicholls State University in Louisiana, and the University of New South Wales in Australia). After all, the library is the academic heart of the institution. Why would you purge the library?

Why Do We Weed?

  • To remove books that are not being used
  • To remove books with outdated or obsolete information/philosophies (that have no historical use)
  • To identify books that are damaged or in poor condition
  • To identify gaps in the collection and make new purchases
  • To align the collection with the university’s goals, mission, and curriculum
  • Limited space for the collection

It boils down to this: Weeding is simply the selection process in reverse. Librarians, using their knowledge, institutional interests, and professional tools, decide which books to purchase. We use that same skill set to decide what books to withdraw.

Libraries are Not Warehouses
For most academic libraries, our mission is not to collect the whole of human knowledge. We have limited space, limited resources. We are not a warehouse for books–a warehouse is a storage facility. Books are for using–not for sitting on a shelf for years on end.

Seek Input, but Use Your Expertise
Communication is key. Consult with professors in the weeding process. Outline the reasons for weeding and why the project is important for the library. Offer professors the chance to review books slated for withdrawal, but remember that the librarian should use his/her skills and tools to make a final decision.

The Space Race
Most academic libraries aren’t seeing a brand new library building – or even a remodel – anytime soon. Space is at a premium. We investigate how students spend time in the library and use its resources (see: University of Rochester study, ERIAL Project, Project Information Literacy, Pew Reports): How to do students use the facility? What do they not do that they would like to do? Stacks and stacks of bound periodicals generally do not make sense anymore in the off-chance a student might browse the section. It can’t compete – nor should it – with 24/7 perpetual access to resources such as JSTOR – available from the library website from anywhere in the world.

Curriculum Counts
Particularly with smaller academic library collections, the mission is to support the courses taught at the university–not necessarily a professor’s own research interests (although the two often match up). As the curriculum evolves, some programs are phased out and new programs implemented. The library collection will change based on the curriculum. It’s a “growing organism” (Ranganathan’s 5th law of library science).

Bad Circulation
We strive for a high-quality, high-use collection. Librarians look at circulation statistics (usually both check-outs and in-house browses) as just one criterion for deciding which books to withdraw – but it’s an important one. Will we keep “classic” items essential for each discipline? Of course. But a non-essential book published in 1975 that hasn’t been checked out since 1985 (that’s 29 years ago–older than most college students!)? Probably not.

Seeing Double
Gone are the days when libraries would purchase multiple copies of the same book to go into the circulating collection. Are those multiple copies getting checked out? Probably not. Even with a “classic” book, multiple copies are likely not warranted and will be weeded. Same goes for most superseded editions.

Waiting for ILL?
Will withdrawal of books lead students to waiting for materials through interlibrary loan? If the books weren’t being used in the first place, then probably not! Generally, lower-level undergraduates will be fine. Upper-level students may need to resort to interlibrary loan regardless of your weeded or un-weeded collection. ILL is also faster these days. If it’s absolutely central to students’ research, then they will wait. On the flipside: If books slated for withdrawal were so “important” – then your library would probably be receiving ILL requests for them. Guess what? They’re not!

Print v. Electronic
In some cases, print copies may be replaced with electronic copies. Will print books be going away anytime soon? No. Opinions on print v. electronic will vary by discipline. Seek input from faculty and students. However, electronic versions may hold an advantage for certain items: Think of digitized historical primary sources – accessible to anyone from anywhere – that’s a better scenario than one book checked out to one person.

The Mini-Library Problem

Often when books are discarded, professors want them for their collections. Policies will vary from library to library on this. I’ve worked at libraries that struggled against historical practices that lead to unofficial “mini-libraries” on-campus. Library staff worked hard to amalgamate library collections for the campus to provide centrally located services and ease of access. The idea of burgeoning “satellite” libraries is one that a lot of smaller academic libraries do not want to repeat.

Book Fetishists
I like books. You like books. I get it. But not every book is precious for your library. And not everyone is willing to come to an agreement on this. Librarians need to communicate and educate. Try to avoid the dumpster scenario if at all possible. Hold a book sale, offer to a used bookstore, or use outlets such as Better World Books. Make an effort to find a new home for these books.

Resources

A candidate for weeding - Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the '90s and Beyond - according to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.

A candidate for weeding: Where the Jobs Are: The Hottest Careers for the ’90s and Beyond. According to WorldCat, this 1995 ed. is still available in over 300 libraries.

Edible Books Redux

Last year I blogged about hosting an Edible Book Festival – it’s a great way to get your community to think about books and reading in a different light. You’re also asking your community to contribute and show off their talents. And who doesn’t like some cake? I love the cleverness and creativity associated with this event. You can even promote it with fun tag lines such as:

It’s time to cook the books!

Did you ever want to eat your own words?

Yesterday, my library held its 2nd annual Edible Book Fest to coincide with National Library Week. This year we did a few things differently. We changed some of the prize categories. This year we did:

We also relied on “celebrity” judges to pick the winners for each of the categories–with the exception of “People’s Choice.” Last year, we spent too much time trying to tally up the winners, so we let our community vote for “People’s Choice” and then only had to tally up votes for one category – this streamlined things for us.

Take a look at some of our edible entries:

Books, Food & Fun: Hosting an Edible Book Festival

Yesterday, my library hosted its first Edible Book Festival. With minimal planning and volunteers, we pulled it off. Traditionally, libraries hold an Edible Book Festival on or around April 1, to honor Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of Physiologie du gout (The Physiology of Taste), who is generally regarded as an early “foodie”. My library held its event today to honor our 40th anniversary.

If you’ve never planned an Edible Book Festival before, it’s easy to do and it’s a great way to get your community, school, or university involved. Here are a few pointers if you are interested in planning such an event.

  • Look around online for some examples and inspiration: Start with the International Edible Book Festival website. Here are a few libraries and organizations that have hosted an edible book event:
  • Determine categories for the event such as: Best Individual Entry, Best Group Entry, Best in Show, “Punniest,” Most Likely to Be Eaten
  • Help answer the question, What is an Edible Book? by providing an explanation:
    • “Edible books can look like a book in form and shape, be inspired by a book or author, can be a pun of a book title, can refer to a book character, reproduce a book cover, or just have something to do with books in general.”
    • Help people visualize what an edible book can be made from: “Entries may be made from anything that is edible (cake, bread, crackers, Jell-o, fruit, vegetables, candy, etc.) as long as it can sit out for an hour or two without melting, turning bad, or getting scary.”
  • Promotion: Use Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to promote the event. We also created a campus flyer and got a story in our university’s daily email announcement.
  • Reach out to local groups that might be interested in the event (elementary, middle & high schools, restaurants, culinary schools, libraries).
  • We created a Libguide that displayed information for people that might be interested in the event.
  • Some libraries collect an entry fee (e.g., $2.00 for individual entries, $5.00 for group entries) and donate the proceeds to a local soup kitchen, food pantry, or charity.
  • Some institutions may have to seek a waiver from their parent organization for serving food.
  • Create an entry form (paper or electronic). Ask for: entry type (individual or group), contact info, title of entry, book/title/author that inspired the entry, special needs (like space, electricity, etc…), and whether or not the entrant plans to bring along a copy of the book that inspired the creation (otherwise the library should plan to get a copy).
  • On the entry form, emphasize the need for safe food handling practices and that the entrants should bring a utensil to cut/carve their creation.
  • Create placards for each of the entrants with the book title, name, etc…
  • Have utensils, cups, and plates for the day of the event.
  • On the day of the event: have entrants bring their creations at least 30 minutes to 1 hour beforehand, to allow for set-up.
  • Leave some time for judging. We had ballots printed up and used a popular vote methods. Other libraries use guest “judges.”
  • Arrange for certificates and prizes (if funding allows).
  • Announce the winners and “eat” the books.
  • We even got a shout-out on the local news.
Our Iceberg is Melting Punch

Our Iceberg is Melting Punch – my entry for our Edible Book Festival

Books as Art

There’s nothing more beautiful than books. Of course, I’m a librarian–so that is expected. But I love seeing how books can be used in non-traditional ways for art, sculpture, and other projects.

Kristi Edminster, an art student who is one of our library’s student workers, created this piece of book art, entitled “Booklovers’ Vows” for the library’s Miller Reading Room. The art piece honors the room’s donors and their love of books and reading. It reads:

Norman and Shirlyn Miller
spent 65 years
loving each other,
loving Green Bay

and loving nothing more
than sitting in a comfortable chair
in a quiet room and reading.

This room
reflects their love
and is gift from them
to the students of UWGB.

So, books just don’t belong in a library’s collection. They can be used as art, as sculpture–to create a very intense visual response as to what a library is all about. Here are a few of my other “favorites”–some sleek, some kitschy:

Reference desk of recycled books – not just art, but functional, too.

Library Christmas tree made of books – no needles!

Kansas City (Mo.) Public Library parking garage – ok, no real books–but book inspired. Dresses up a structure that is very utilitarian.

Isaac Salazar’s book art – amazing!

The Bittersweet Art of Cutting Up Books – And yes, some don’t like to see the cutting up of any books, but look at all of the creativity that comes from it.

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