Weeding Apprehensions

The campus I work for has a tiny print collection. Many of our students take online classes and we have a large number of article databases and eBook collections to support them. However, I strongly believe that books are often the best way to introduce students to using reliable materials in their assignments. And the eBook collections we have, although containing a great range of high quality information, are not always the most conducive to reading. We have a smattering of associate’s level classes on campus including composition and our medical assisting and nursing classes so the print collection does still get some use.

But it has been hard to find the gems in among the detritus. Of our 3,000 or so (fewer I think since the last count) items so many date from the early to mid 90s, many I feel are inappropriate for an academic library (self-help galore), and many even if they are valid are just so old that they pages have turned yellow and gritty ensuring that students won’t use them, even if they discover the titles.

A shelving unit that still needs to be weeded and shifted.

A shelving unit that still needs to be weeded and shifted.

Searching the titles in WorldCat I find that many large universities in our state carry these older titles as well. But they may have the space or the historical interest to continue housing titles that are no longer as valid to the study of current trends in the business, medical, etc. world. Plus, we have a great state interlibrary loan system so if a student did request one of these books I could feasibly procure the title within a number of days.

So for the last 6 months or so I have been on a weeding frenzy. The interim librarian before me I know went on a huge weeding project so I have been surprised by some of the books still left on the shelves – and scared to think that maybe these were left because, by comparison to what was removed several years ago, these were better choices.

During this project I have also come across a large number of books that appear to have been donated by the same scholar. These books usually cover a topic that is very narrow and unlikely to help students in our current curriculum. I am giving one of my predecessors the benefit the doubt and am considering the possibility that at one point we had classes that justified adding these books to the collection. However, what you find inside the books baffles me as to why these books were considered worthy.

One of many books with bright red underlining that covers almost the entire page of all the pages.

One of many books with bright red underlining that covers almost the entire page of all the pages.

When you have a small print collection weeding can be scary. I recently read a post by a children’s librarian who asked about weeding dated titles about minorities when there wasn’t a good selection to replace the removed books with. And when I first started here I was paralyzed by a similar dilemma – I don’t have the funds to replace the total number of books I remove so maybe I should leave these older titles there? I also know that usage stats aren’t a good sole indicator for me because hardly ANY of the books have circulated including titles that I know for a fact would be helpful for assignments.

I still have barely any money to devote to building up my print collection, but my mindset has changed. My focus is to highlight what good materials we do have to encourage students to use them. And the only way that is really possible is to remove the distractions. Books like “Flirting for Success” (1994) or “The Coming Global Boom: How to Benefit Now from Tomorrrow’s Dynamic World Economy” (1990). It’s unlikely I will ever replace all the books I’m removing but the residual space now displays really on-target books that should help students with specific assignments.

Books in-shelf display in the  300s

Books in-shelf display in the 300s

And my collection development goals? Right now they’re to focus on curating more books for the students I know will be on campus – medical students.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Weeding Apprehensions

  1. I was struggling with this in my current collection in a community college.

    I have lots of strong thoughts and feelings on weeding in a public library because I did so much of it in my last job, and I was pretty aggressive about it. But when I moved to an academic library, I really had no idea where to start, and like you I had a collection in desperate need of weeding.

    For me the breakthrough for me was when I realized that in some cases leaving old books on the shelves would leave students with inaccurate information, and that in those cases it was my duty to weed aggressively.

    I still struggle outside of rapidly changing disciplines to strike the right balance between preserving important scholarly works and providing shiny new titles students will definitely pick up, but I’m glad I’m not the only one trying to figure out this balancing act.

    • Glad to know I’m in good company. Our curriculum is very standardized. Except for the composition classes the subjects students will research and write on are pretty much set. This makes weeding easier in the disciplines.

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