ASSOCIATES (vol. 3, no. 1, July 1996) -

Table of Contents

                         Beverly Barkley
                        Library Associate
                          LSUMC Shrevep,

For those who love books and knowledge, one of the most difficult
things to do is weed a collection.  Whether in a large academic
library or a small home library, it is never easy just to throw
away a book, something that we have been taught to cherish and
protect, even though it is outdated, no longer relevant or even
inaccurate or harmful.
The practice of using the number of volumes, rather than quality
of information, to measure the value of a collection does nothing
to help the situation.  When numbers rule, most administrators
find it almost impossible to part with even the most outdated
material, for fear of the appearance of not properly maintaining
the growth of the library and its image in the community.
Experience sometimes proves otherwise.   While shelving books in
a small public library, I stopped to browse through the books on
epilepsy.   One of the first books I picked up used the term
'feeble minded' to apply to those who had 'fits'.  There it was
in black and white in the public library just waiting for the
next family who was trying to learn to deal with this illness.
Because a member of my family had seizures, I recognized some of
the other books on the shelf as being on the reading list
published by the National Epilepsy Foundation.  There were good,
accurate books on the shelf, but what if the only one that was
available when someone was trying to understand the illness of a
family member or friend was this out-dated book that reinforces
negative stereotypes rather than providing accurate information
and frightens rather than brings understanding.
Would that book be better than none at all? Hardly. If the patron
who knows something about this subject picks up this book and
determines that it is indeed out-dated, he may decide that the
whole collection is questionable.  Few patrons check publication
dates and most just assume that if it is in the library, it must
be accurate.  Library leadership needs to see that those who use
their libraries find the most up-to-date, comprehensive
collection possible and that involves getting rid of material
that is no longer useful, takes up space and may leave a negative
impression with library users.
Once it has been determined that there are some materials that
must go to maintain a relevant collection, the real fun begins.
Where to start?  How to be good stewards of tax money and discard
books at the same time?  What makes a book a "keeper"?  What
sections should be done first?  The following guidelines address
these questions.
1.   Do those sections dealing with subjects that go out-of-date
quickly, like science and technology,  first.  These are also
among the most in demand in public libraries.
2.   Run circulation statistics if circulation is automated.
Though the number of times a book has been circulated is one of
the factors to be considered, numbers alone do not take into
consideration those books that should be in the collection but
may not have the circulation of some that are more attractive but
less informative or accurate.  Obviously, books by Tolstoy may
not be checked out as many times as those by Tom Clancy or
Danielle Steele, but that does not mean they do not belong in the
3.   Consider publication dates.  As with circulation statistics,
however, there can be no definite cutoff dates.  The available
information on some subjects doesn't change very much with time,
some sources are considered classics on a subject and others give
a historical perspective or provide an alternate view.  Some just
have the best pictures or a unique format.
4.   Call in local experts in certain areas to evaluate the total
collection in their fields and make suggestions for discards and
purchases if there is no one on the staff with that expertise.
One middle school science teacher spent one whole summer going
through the science section of his school library after the
school librarian decided that books that still stated, "One day
man will walk on the moon" were no longer relevant.
5.   Reading lists can be requested from organizations like the
National Epilepsy Foundation, the American Cancer Society and
other nationally recognized groups specializing in educating the
public.  After those lists have been used for making decisions
about what to keep and what to replace, they can be put in the
Vertical File or otherwise made available for patrons who request
information on those topics.
6.   Library Journal regularly publishes articles on collection
development in specific areas.  This can be a good guide for what
to keep and what to discard.
A good weeding program can become a good collection development
tool and the basis of on-going selection and acquisitions. That
small public library eventually went though a systematic weeding
program at the main library and some of the branches.  For a
short time some of the shelves were a little bare but new
acquisitions soon filled in the gaps making a more accurate,
up-to-date and even more comprehensive collection.  The library
system and staff were small, one acquisitions librarian had done
most of the collection development for a number of years and had
a good overall view of the entire library system collection and
the library leadership believed that their only reason for being
was meeting the needs of their patrons.  It may not be as easy to
weed a very large or special collection or convince the powers
that be that it is important to do so, but that does not preclude
the need for determining that there are some materials that no
longer belong on the shelf.