Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Weeding is part of library customer service

‘Free Books’ can be cause for celebration among enthusiastic readers

I love the tagline on the “Awful Library Books” blog, “Hoarding is not collection development.” The blog commemorates actual books that were once in libraries and in some cases, still are -- presented as arguments for removing outdated materials from a library collection.

E-Mail Addresses of the Rich and Famous, circa 1994, is the subject of today’s entry at Awful Library Books. The person who submitted it, quite legitimately asked, “I wonder if Al Gore still checks his email at vice.president@whitehouse.gov.”

Awful Library Books offers effective rebuttal to the idea that libraries should just warehouse books forever:

  • Whether or not they’re in good condition or anybody is reading them.
  • Whether or not the information they contain is aligned with current understandings in science and technology.
  • Whether or not they continue to meet the needs of the local community.

The practice of “weeding” typically seizes people’s attention through headlines about books found “in dumpsters,” in some cases distracting from more important issues related to library service.

The fact is, weeding is an important part of a library’s collection management. It’s a matter of good customer service.

As the needs of library users change, as our understanding of the world evolves, a library’s collection must stay current and up-to-date -- and accessible on the shelves. Readers won’t be able to find the up-to-date materials, if hoard-piles block access to them.

Library staff typically approach weeding via professional guidelines like the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries. Acronyms like MUSTIE assist with holding these guidelines in memory:

  • Misleading: factually inaccurate
  • Ugly: worn beyond mending or rebinding
  • Superceded: by new edition of a much better book on the subject
  • Trivial: of no discernible literary or scientific merit
  • Irrelevant: to needs and interests of the library community
  • Elsewhere: the material is easily obtainable from another library

And talk about great service: few things rival a young reader’s delight than the prospect of owning a “Free Book.” Weeded materials can be sold through a Library Friends sale or put out on a “Free Books” cart.

I place “DISCARDED MATERIALS” slips in books that have been weeded from the library. The slips list reasons why the item might’ve been retired, and briefly explain the rationale for weeding a library collection. I consider the slips to be “P.R. ambassadors” for the importance and necessity of weeding.

I modeled the forms from ones I found in my textbook for school library operations (Where Do I Start?, a School Library Handbook, second edition, produced by the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Learning Multimedia Center). I’d recommend this book, alongside the CREW Weeding Manual, for library professional resources.

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