Archive for July 22nd, 2009

Weeds

A patron recently asked me about books that the library discards - why we do it and what we do with them.  This is what our Collection Development policy has to say about it:

“Weeding (de-selection) is a continual process and necessary component of collection development. It is a subjective activity, and cannot be dictated by a mechanical formula or based solely on circulation statistics. Weeding may include replacing materials, updating editions or discarding items. Criteria for weeding an item include:”

  • Physical condition
  • Accuracy
  • Timeliness
  • Relevance
  • Literary merit
  • Publication date
  • Additional copies
  • Other materials on the same topic in the collection
  • Space
  • Integrity of a series or completeness of works by an author
  • Inclusion in professional bibliographies
  • Author
  • Local interest/local historical significance
  • Inconsistency with current selection criteria
  • Circulation statistics

I wish we never had to get rid of a book from our collection, but the laws of physics say that if we want to keep buying new books, then we have to get rid of the old books to make room. Deciding which books to pull is not always an easy choice even though we have guidelines. It’s easiest when a book is in poor condition, but then you have to decide if you want to replace it, which we will do if it is part of a series or a classic.  It gets harder when you consider novels that haven’t checked out in a while.  You have to ask yourself  things like: Is the author still producing books? If so, they may write the next bestseller and all of their older books will suddenly be in demand.  Another question you may need to ask: Is the work timeless? Many books are obviously dated, using the slang of the day or featuring current events or themes that are no longer relevant.  For example, during the Cold War era the threat of global nuclear war was a very real fear for many people and novels with post-apocalyptic themes were popular.  A few of them have survived to become classics, but many more fail to connect with modern readers.

The decision to discard non-fiction books can sometimes be easier because information can change so rapidly and it is important that we provide the public with current, relevant facts.  You wouldn’t want to rely on information from a ten year old book about treating cancer, or get decorating ideas from a book printed in the eighties.  We recently discarded one book on canning and preserving that gave instructions for methods that are no longer considered safe or sanitary, so that was an easy choice.  Decisions are a little more difficult with things like history books.  Sure, the facts aren’t going to change, but sometimes the perspective does, or new information is uncovered.  Sometimes a new book is published that is more complete and then it comes back down to an issue of shelf space.

Once we decide to de-accession a book, we have to figure out what to do with it.  If it’s in poor condition, we send it to recycling.  If it’s in good condition, we may give it to the Friends of the Library for their book sale. However, if it’s a book that is out of style that hasn’t checked out of the library for years, it’s not likely that someone will want to pay for it either.  Some books go straight to recycling, some go to the book sale for a while and then to recycling.  It has been suggested that rather than recycling, we give those books to other charitable organizations, but again, if no one wants to borrow it from the library for free, they are not likely to want to read it just because we gave it to them.  However, if there are any non-profit organizations out there who would like to receive our discarded books, I hope they will contact me at the library to make arrangements.  We would be much happier seeing books in the hands of people who will appreciate them than sending them to recycling.

2 comments July 22nd, 2009


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