More on weeding

As we progress through the weeding project we embarked on this year, our Collection Development Coordinator, Marianne Hebert, sends out a weekly email to our faculty liaisons (one individual from each academic department) telling them that the week’s weeding list is ready for review. A few weeks ago she began including commentary and information in the emails, hoping to help our faculty colleagues understand the context in which we’re operating, and to keep the dialogue open about this project. This week’s email included some really interesting facts about our print collection usage that I wanted to share. (Note: This is circulations only, and only for our main stacks collection, so no music, media, children’s books, etc.)

These are the titles that for the most part, students are using (note that I could not exclude faculty, staff or ILL).  For those of you who assign library research assignments, you will probably recognize some of the titles and themes.  The titles with the highest loan transactions, were on reserve for at least one of the semesters.

Some number crunching:

Total titles that circulated: 11,034
# of titles that circulated more than once:  2018  (18%)
36% of the titles that circulated were published since 2000.
Less than 4% of the books that circulated were published prior to 1950.

PUBLICATION DATE    # of titles    %
2000-2012    4037    36.6%
1990-1999    2256    20.4%
1980-1989    1269    11.5%
1970-1979    1006    9.1%
1960-1969    1312    11.9%
1950-1959    507    4.6%
1940-1949    180    1.6%
1930-1939    102    0.9%
1920-1929    47    0.4%
1910-1919    31    0.3%
1900-1909    35    0.3%
1850-1899    40    0.4%

I am not surprised to see that Social Sciences, Fine Arts, and Literature are heavily used:

CALL NUMBER    # of titles    %
A — GENERAL WORKS     18    0.2%
D — WORLD HISTORY     846    7.7%
E — HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS     522    4.7%
F — HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS     208    1.9%
H — SOCIAL SCIENCES     1340    12.1%
J — POLITICAL SCIENCE     169    1.5%
K — LAW     118    1.1%
L — EDUCATION     617    5.6%
N — FINE ARTS     2099    19.0%
P — LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE     2096    19.0%
Q — SCIENCE     853    7.7%
R — MEDICINE     397    3.6%
S — AGRICULTURE     49    0.4%
T — TECHNOLOGY     228    2.1%
U — MILITARY SCIENCE     31    0.3%
V — NAVAL SCIENCE     3    0.0%

So far, we’ve proposed to discard about 75 books in each week’s lists, all from the pre-1950 collection. In 6 weeks of lists, we’ve received 16 comments on books faculty wish we would keep. The most common comment is, paraphrased, “This author is important and we should keep this.” The challenge for our librarian selectors is that the fact that the author is important in the field does not have any bearing on whether or not students will use this material. That’s the shift that’s hard both to grasp and to communicate, because many academics hold tight to the idea that Libraries Have Important Works. And many libraries do have important works, but we can’t afford to have all the important works, so we need to have the best and most useful important works… The series of questions, in my mind, goes like this:

What is important subject matter?
How is that subject matter being taught?
How are those pedagogical approaches to the subject matter leading to library-provided information use?
Given that, which of our library-provided information resources will be used?

In our case, clearly, there are some areas in which our local pedagogical approaches to important subject matter are leading to use of library-provided books, and some areas in which our local pedagogical approaches are not. And the “which” of our materials are being used is also enlightening. If I had all day to play with numbers, I’d want to compare the percentage of use by decade of publication against our collection sizes per decade of publication — is it representative, or does it skew higher on use-per-book in certain decades? (I suspect it’s fair to suggest that the recent books are used more often than the pre-1950s, but hey, I could be wrong.)

The thing that I know and believe is that the answers to those questions are different for every institution, every library, every department, and every course. And they’re hard to ask, and hard to answer. But if you do, you should have a list of things/subject areas/types of material that are good, relevant, and likely to see use by your community, which, if you’re me, at a small undergraduate teaching institution with a limited physical and financial resource pool which must be carefully managed, is The Thing That Matters.

We’re continuing on. I have no stunning weeding revelations. But this has been a fascinating process, and it continues to produce interesting food for thought along with some less-crowded shelves.


  1. I applaud your library for being so open and transparent with the weeding project. It’s great to be able to engage in a dialogue with the faculty when deselecting instead of just working in a bubble. From an outreach perspective, handling the initiative in this manner is probably extremely helpful in terms of library perceptions. I often wonder how many librarian-faculty member relationships (painstakingly developed over years of collaboration and trust-building) are dismantled due to misunderstandings about the weeding process. Also, I can’t help but facetiously point out “…all the important works…” which totally reminded me of 🙂


  2. I’ve been following your blog the last few months and LOVE your ideas for weeding! I’m currently working at a library that has not weeded its collection in over 16 years (yikes!). We are very low on staff – and have even less space – but are trying to create a weeding procedure that’s both transparent for the faculty and easy for our librarians to follow. Thank you for posting about this and I hope you do not mind if I stea- er, adopt – some of these ideas 🙂


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