More on weeding, part 2

We have a series of entries, from several faculty members in several departments, on the faculty feedback form for our weeding project that just say “Please do not remove from the collection. These are classic works [in my field].”

The ruthless inner collection manager in me wants to say “I don’t care.”

Fortunately for everyone, my ruthless inner collection manager is not actively in charge of this project. Instead, the librarians doing the work are putting them onto the Keep And Discuss Later list, and odds are that we’ll keep them because of the expressed faculty interest.

The question I find far more interesting than “should we keep it or should we discard it”, though, is how to compellingly present my argument about our collections, the idea that relevance and utility to today’s curriculum as demonstrated by active teaching strategies and student assignments is more important than the “classic” status of an unused work, to our faculty. I have made the argument several times, in several venues, in writing, in our newsletter, by blast email, in person, one on one, to groups, at the Senate, by proxy as librarians work with faculty… but still the message is not as valued as I would hope. The older model of “libraries have good books, and that’s a good book, so we must have it” continues to prevail in the minds of many over the newer “libraries have good books that are needed and used by users”. So I think I’m failing to communicate that as effectively as I could.

Of course, I also continue to acknowledge that you can’t win ’em all. Some of my colleagues will never agree with me, never believe in that argument, will never relinquish their conceptual ideal of The Library as a repository for knowledge. And that’s okay, too. It’s a great ideal.

I just wonder how many more people I might be able to communicate with more effectively if I could just figure out how.

Previous entries about this project: On Weeding, More on Weeding


  1. Have you tried raising the point that although they are classic works, they are not being consulted? And that we should pay heed to that fact? And if the faculty consider them classic, they should be consulted, and if they wish to keep them in the library, they need to design syllabi which force the issue, and which we would be very happy to help them construct?

    And, if they are not important enough to be required reading/use for classes in the departments for which these are classic readings, then they are not within the very clear collection development policy, and will be weeded?

    Or did my inner bitch just take over the keyboard?


  2. I’ve made all those points to one group or another in the last 6 months, and in some cases made no friends doing so. They seem to remain unconvinced. Which is why I’m wondering what other tactics are possible…

    I’ve observed a distinct disconnect between “The Library should have and be these things” and “these are realities of teaching and learning and information access” — acknowledging the second in no way impacts perceptions of the first. The concept of The Library is too big and hallowed by academics to be dented by my arguments about effectiveness and utility!


  3. I have the same problem. I work on a weeding project and want to get rid of something and the faculty respond, “Oh, this is important. We must keep it.” And I really doubt that it’s actually used. My inner weeder is ruthless and wants to get rid of these titles, but politics are tricky. Sigh.


  4. I can certainly understand and appreciate the idea that “libraries have good books”. It’s what a library is for after all, to have good books! A library should be the repository of knowledge. A library should have the classics, whether or not they are part of the curriculum. And many of those books will be used, even if they aren’t removed from teh library. (During my BA there were a number of books that I read because I was interested in them. I used them for assignments, and so on. But they weren’t on any curriculum list. Sometimes I didn’t even remove them from the library, engrossed in them so much as I was…)

    However, I can also understand the realities of life, not enough space, not enough money, and not enough everything else.

    I don’t know if it’s possible to reconcile these two realities.

    Two things I would like to suggest though. One: digitize and throw up on the Internet (copyright? what’s that?). Two: give the books to the faculty, list them in the catalog with location as “in the office of Prof. Body” or “in the office of Associate Prof. Black”. They get to keep the books if they are so important, and the students can still find them in the catalog and use them.


  5. Michael, you’re not the first to suggest “give them to faculty”. My follow-on question is always “If it’s not important enough or well-enough-used to pass our admittedly not-very-harsh criteria for retention, why is it important enough that it should be made available to students outside the library?”

    And the workflow and workload manager in my cringes at the idea of cataloging and maintaining access to three dozen individual reading room/office collections. Who’s going to take the flack if a student can’t get to the book they want that’s in the library catalog because it’s in Dr. X’s office? The library. That’s not only bad publicity, it’s bad *service*.

    So, again, if it’s so important for students to have access to it, in this time of limited resources and shifting missions, why isn’t it part of the curriculum? and why isn’t it being used? When do we acknowledge that many of our students don’t, won’t, and aren’t going to just go “read the classics because they’re cool”, unless they’re intentionally taught?

    I don’t know how to make that a compelling position for people who think that the library’s *only* identity is to “have good books”.


  6. [puts on rose-colored glasses] Maybe faculty will think “why have I never pointed students toward this great classic work?” or “maybe the assignments I’m giving are not working because they keep citing random stuff rather than sources that are considered really significant in the field?”

    Maybe they’ll grow curious about why books that seem so central to their discipline are not getting touched.

    I know, that’s not all that likely — but maybe ….


  7. Barbara, we can all keep hoping! After an interesting conversation recently, one that challenged some of my assumptions about library-faculty relationships, another administrator commented, ‘well, at least you had a chance to bring up your collection policy again’, which was pretty much how I felt about it, too. Any chance to talk about the WHY of what we do, and how faculty choices and actions affect collection and service usage in the libraries, is worth taking.


  8. Sounds like more than a few of the same discussions we had here re: our weeding project. Except we also had the “do not ever throw anything away evar!” faculty as well.

    In the case of weeding, our Dean said, very politely, to the faculty: “These books are not being used, and have not been used in 20 years. There are two possibilities…either students can’t find the things they need (in which case weeding makes good content more findable) OR teaching faculty aren’t teaching to a curriculum that includes the books you want to keep. We are dealing with the half of that equation we control.”


  9. Jason, that is indeed a killer comment by your dean and needs to be remembered for future use.

    We have given some sets to faculty, things that have appeared online. Once we do that we remove it from the collection, however.

    Some people do want their comfort books, things that they felt were important when they were younger, even though life has passed that particular tome by. I think that in our current pass of the education collection we had about 4 of them, which was acceptable, considering what they gave up.


  10. I can certainly see your point Jenica. In which case I would say that if the items can’t pass the retention criteria, just give them to the faculty. If they think they are important, they’ll keep them.

    (Still, I do think that digitisation is an option…)

    (*Sigh*, I wish I lived in a perfect world, where libraries didn’t have to throw out stuff.)


  11. I too love your response Jason – very good points.
    We have recently held weeding workshops for staff at our libraries and the facilitators talked about “hoarders” and “chuckers” – and that was just amongst the library staff! It was good to actually talk about those two terms and the attitudes to our collections – first start towards discussing how to progress with our deselection policies and processes – not that it will be quick or easy!


  12. I should stay out of this, but: For those who believe or say that a library is *only* about having great books, there’s not a lot you can do. To me, that’s as absurd as saying a library is *only* about conversation or access or…

    For the real world, is a compromise possible? With some % of the stacks/collection devoted to The Works You Must Have and the rest (presumably more of the stacks and a LOT more of the acq/licensing budget) devoted to what’s clearly serving ongoing needs? (A naive question, feel free to ignore)


  13. My inclination would be to officially weed it from the collection, but give it to the faculty who want it. I mean, they want it, right? 😉 Perhaps totally unrealistic, but…


  14. My philosophy about consulting faculty when weeding is a bastardized, re-purposed idea I appropriated from Machiavelli: “A collection development librarian need not care about what members of the faculty say. S/he need only appear to care what members of the faculty say.” I inherited this attitude from the woman who taught me about collection development – the director who gave me my first professional librarian position.

    I don’t have an answer to your question of how to convince people. More of a “me, too!” kind of comment.


  15. Do you have space to box them up and stick ’em in storage (retrievable, if requested)? I do that with clothes I’m not quite willing to part with, and eventually I take them to the second hand store if I haven’t pulled them out after a period of time.


  16. Here’s the thing: I don’t have the time, energy, or resources to cater to each individual faculty member’s needs. We made a plan, carefully vetted, talked through, and approved by the powers that be, which includes a way for faculty to purchase our used materials. I feel that we did well enough by their needs, given our restrictions. I am NOT going to break that system for individuals because they want me to, to the detriment of my staff, our goals, and our resources.

    So. No. We don’t have storage space or staff time to pull and separately process books. It’s not on the table.

    Walt, that’s pretty much what our collection is — some portion is “stuff that’s good that we keep but never gets used” and some is “new stuff that gets used that we wish we had more of”. The thing that gets lost when we debate weeding is that we’re currently reviewing 13,000 books out of 400,000+ — only the pre-1950s that haven’t circulated. We’re REALLY not harming the collection with this project. Seriously.


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