Last week I mentioned that the library is preparing for a move to temporary quarters in order to begin renovation on a brand new 21st century library space. One of the ways the library is preparing is by weeding its current holdings in an effort to pare down to the necessities, both for space and for efficiency.
Weeding sounds like something gardeners do to rid their petunias of harmful invaders. But the actual dictionary definition of weeding is “to remove as being undesirable, inefficient, or superfluous.” That goes for anything, including books and it’s something that librarians do all the time, whether they are moving or not.
What? Books become “superfluous” after a while? Yes, yes they do. Librarians hate getting rid of their precious books and the public might even see it as wasteful, but librarians know they must if they want to stay current for their patrons.
This is a tricky endeavor. It’s not just about tossing out “old” books. It’s about strategically determining which books hold value to the patron and to the community and to ensure that only materials that are needed, wanted, and used stay on the shelves. Another way to think about it is the approach stores take when clearing out their inventory – if something ain’t moving, it ain’t making profit and it becomes desirable to no one. As such, the following are the main reasons why librarians weed:
- To remove clutter from the shelves and make material more accessible
- To remove material that is so outdated, it ceases to hold value from an information perspective
- To remove material that may cause harm to others due to outdated information
- To remove material that nobody wants or uses or that hasn’t been checked out in a long time
- To remove unsightly material that is physically deteriorating and difficult to use
Last summer, I was interning at a small public library in Southern California, and I was given the task of weeding some of the shelves. I was originally told to set aside anything that hadn’t been checked out in three years and to leave them in a pile to go over with the librarian. I soon found that what she ultimately decided to keep, yes, had something to do with its lack of relevance (sewing books on bell-bottom pants and satin shirts), but it also had to do with its status as a “classic” (copies of Catcher in the Rye), and her own personal attachment to the book (stuff from the 60’s I wasn’t sure anyone still cared about). I learned that weeding was part- science and part-gut reaction. I also saw that what guided the philosophy of weeding was what would ultimately serve the community good and that meant knowing one’s material and the community need thoroughly.
At Yuba College our Librarian, Elena Heilman, is greatly aided in weeding by the expert faculty. Right, who else knows their subject best and what is current and what is not? Recently, some biology faculty got together for a weeding party. Check out the photos.
After books are selected and weeded out, they are officially withdrawn from the library catalog (so they won’t show up in a search) and then shipped off to Better World Books, which sells them and donates the proceeds to the National Center for Family Literacy.
Alas, libraries are in the information business. Not in the same way as Barnes & Noble, mind you. Libraries don’t make money and give away their product for free (some business savvy, eh?). Nevertheless, the product is still expected to hold value, be useful, and serve a current need. What good is a library if it has nothing you want? Libraries, like botanic gardens, need to be weed-free so that you can enjoy the beauty of what they have to offer and that is where the process of weeding comes in. Your petunias and your research books greatly thank you when you weed.