Like a garden, in order to make run for new growth, a library needs to be routinely weeded. Weeding or deselection also serves as a time to get rid of materials which are dated — think: non-fiction published 10 years ago — and those which are no longer circulating — think: early Dean Koontz books.
The practice is vitally important to all circulating libraries. It’s important enough that most library schools offer an entire course on collection development which features a unit on deselection of materials and the various best practices. The School of Library and Information Science at Wayne State University offered LIS 7340: Collection Development and Selection of Materials and I must say that it’s one (of several classes) which I utilize on an almost daily basis.
The Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science (ODLIS) by Joan M. Reitz defines ‘deselection':
In serials, the process of identifying subscriptions for cancellation, usually in response to subscription price increases and budgetary constraints. In book and nonprint collections, the process of identifying titles for weeding, usually on the basis of currency, usage, and condition. The opposite of selection.
I believe the practice of deselection to be especially important for the small, rural public library because shelf space is very limited and at a premium. Due to the library’s geographic location, access to materials via Interlibrary Loan (ILL) service can sometimes take several days to even weeks; therefore, it’s imperative that staff keep up and maintain rural library’s collection.
I’d like to break down the fallacy: “Something is Better Than Nothing.”
I’ve been working at weeding areas within my library’s collection and opted to get rid of our World Book encyclopedia set which was published in 2000 and which were rarely utilized.
Did I commit a “library sin”? Is it better to have something on a subject rather than nothing at all?
- Would you have a book on Iraq or Afghanistan which were published in 2001 sitting on the shelves in your non-fiction collection?
- Would you have the book “Windows for Dummies” (published in 2002) sitting on the shelves?
Your answer should be a definitive and resolute: NO.
In the case of the World Book encyclopedia set: yes, it was expensive when it was initially purchased for the collection; however, it is now FOURTEEN YEARS OLD — well beyond it’s useful shelf life.
Think about how much has changed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. A Windows book published in 2002 would’ve likely been focusing on the XP-operating system – which Microsoft is no longer supporting. And the millennium edition of World Book encyclopedia? It would have no mention of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the Mumbai Attacks, Boston Marathon Bombing, or the death of Ariel Sharon…not mention the strides we’ve made in AIDS research.
Best practice: non-fiction items 10 years or older should generally be weeded from the collection – exception: pieces with historical focus such as books on the World Wars, Jim Crow, women’s suffrage, etc.
When it comes to time-sensitive topics involving medicine, law, and technology, those areas of the collection should be weeded/replaced every couple of years. Dated information on those subjects could be quite misleading and end up being downright dangerous for patrons. Clearly, having just ‘something’ on a subject for the sake of having it is NOT better — it’s foolish.
A memorable quote from librarian, Erin Schmändt – a 2005 SLIS alumna whom has been practicing librarianship for 13 years and the current director of Caro Area District Library:
Weed anything that doesn’t fit your community, no sinning necessary.
- Are they circulating? When was the last time? Within the last 3 years?
- Are they available elsewhere and easily accessible? Does your library belong to a cooperative/consortium which partake in shared automation endeavors such as TLN or VLC? Are the books available via ILL — e.g. if you live in Michigan: MeLCat?
Want some more background on deselection/weeding? Check out these resources:
- CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission
And for a bit of library humor…