Weeding

For the Spring 2010 semester, I am enrolled in two classes. One of them is IST-613, which deals with Planning, Marketing and Assessment in libraries. For our first assignment, we had to go to a nearby library, pick a section of about 200 books, and weed! A summary fo the experience is below.

Over the next few weeks, I will be updating this blog to incorporate some of the knowledge that I gain from my classes for this semester, and I will also begin to post about some of the most interesting parts of my fall ’09 classes, which were introductions to reference services and digital libraries.

Reflections on Deselection

For my weeding assignment, I chose the technology section of the San Diego State University Library (T14 on the Library of Congress catalog, which SDSU uses). This process underscored several of the concepts that we learned about from the readings and lectures. As previously advertised, this was a difficult process, and almost every book that I chose for deselection became an agonizing decision. My choice of an academic library did not help matters, as the institution’s focus on research added another dimension of anti-weeding arguments: sure, that directory of Czechoslovak manufacturers from the late sixties (see number 4) is hopelessly out of date and of no practical use, but perhaps, in the hands of an enterprising Economics graduate student, it will become the key information artifact that uncovers the hidden signs of the demise of Communism. In the end, however, I was able to adopt a pro-weeding attitude and find several books that should be confined to either offsite storage or the recycling bin. The section contained 202 volumes, of which I deselected 29, and chose an additional 10 for weeding and re-ordering.

This was not exactly the weeding process as it would be conducted by the librarians themselves. First of all, since the library instituted electronic borrowing records several years ago, I was not able to gather any meaningful data on frequency of use. Second, because I only saw what was on the shelves, I had no way of knowing whether any volumes were checked out, taken off the shelf for repairs, or ordered but not yet delivered by the publisher; I was potentially dealing with an incomplete collection when making decisions. Third, I did not have access to any faculty or subject expert input regarding the books; all I could do was look at them, briefly read the introductions, book jackets, or at most one or two pages of text. This made it a challenge to determine obsolescence and, especially, accuracy.

I followed several basic rules: I looked for books that were in bad condition, I removed duplicate copies of works, and I looked for volumes that were older and seemed to have lost relevance. Because of the fast pace of evolution in this subject area, I considered any book older than 15 years potentially obsolete, and looked for volumes that were written of and for their time: practical guides, conjectures about future (to the author) developments, etc. I also experienced the power of bias first-hand, when I decided to keep a volume on “the existential pleasures of engineering,” written by Samuel Florman in 1976 (number 19). I met Dr. Florman many years ago when I received a fellowship named in his honor during my undergraduate days, and found him to be an insightful and exceedingly intelligent person. While I did not find any specific reason to deselect his book, given its age and subject matter, I may not have been so quick to keep it if not for that personal connection.